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.