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Saudi activist Manal Al-Sharif. (MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/Getty Images)

'Kingdom of men'

Woman who broke driving ban in Saudi Arabia was forced to flee country and leave son, 6, behind

By WITW Staff on June 15, 2017

Saudi women’s rights activist Manal al-Sharif has written a heartbreaking Op-Ed for The New York Times in which she recounts the fallout of having broken the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. In 2011, al-Sharif posted a video on YouTube of herself operating a car. The backlash that followed was swift and fierce.

“I was arrested and spent nine days in prison. At the time, I was a working, divorced mother. As a result of my protest, I was threatened — imams wanted me to be publicly lashed — and monitored and harassed,” al-Sharif writes in the Op-Ed. “I was pushed out of my job. After that, I had to move from my home. Without a safe place to work or live, with other Saudis calling for my death, I had no choice but to leave the only country I had ever known. The hardest part was leaving behind [her son] Aboudi, who was then 6 and a half years old.” She moved to Dubai.

Because of Saudi Arabia’s strict male guardianship rules, Aboudi stayed behind and al-Sharif’s ex-husband stipulated that if she wanted to see her son, she had to do so by returning to Saudi Arabia — which she did, every other weekend. But doing so presented major challenges. For instance, many hotels in Saudi Arabia, al-Sharif writes, won’t rent a room to a woman who’s alone and doesn’t have permission from a man to be there. When she returned to visit her son, she ended up staying at the home of her mother-in-law, the woman who ended up raising Aboudi when her ex-husband remarried.

Three years after fleeing Saudi Arabia, al-Sharif remarried and gave birth to another son. In her piece, she laments that the two boys have never met one another, “never tickled, giggled, wrestled on the floor, thrown a ball, or played a prank or peek-a-boo.”

And she worries that they might never meet at all because Saudi Arabia refuses to issue her son a travel visa.

“In kingdoms of men, there are few — if any — choices for women,” she writes. “Or the choices are such that there is no greater pain than having to choose.”

Read the full Op-Ed at The New York Times.


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