Back in 2011, Manal al-Sharif spent a week in a Saudi Arabian prison for “driving while female,” as her charge sheet put it. She had posted a YouTube video of herself at the helm of a vehicle to protest the country’s driving ban for women. In a recent interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, al-Sharif said that giving Saudi women the freedom to drive is vital to overturning a patriarchal system that oppresses female citizens.
“Once women can drive,” she said, “all this evil will fall.”
Saudi Arabia is notorious for its guardianship system, which requires women to seek permission for a litany of activities, like making police complaints or getting married. (The country recently relaxed some of its guardianship laws pertaining to travel, education, and health care.)
Al-Sharif’s decision to get behind the wheel was spurred by her frustration with these restrictive laws. She told the Herald that was unable to find a taxi after visiting a doctor, and as she walked down the street, men harassed her — and one even followed her.
“Why do I have to be humiliated?” she says. “Why can’t I drive when I have a car and a license? Why do I have to ask colleagues to give me a ride, or my brother, or look for a driver to drive my own car?”
Al-Sharif launched a Facebook page Women2Drive, which connect women who wanted to drive with women who could teach them. In June of 2011, al-Sharif and 20 other women took the radical step of driving on their own.
The backlash brought on by al-Sharif’s activism compelled her to flee Saudi Arabia, and she was not able to bring her young son with her. She now resides in Australia. While life without her son is constantly painful, al-Sharif has begun a new chapter in her life. She started a second marriage, has had another child, and has obtained an Australian driver’s license.
Read the full story at The Sydney Morning Herald.