Inspirational Women- you may never have heard of: Manal al- Sharif
Can you imagine a world where simply getting in your car to go pick up your kids from school or do your grocery shopping was a criminal offence? For the women of Saudi Arabia, this is an everyday reality- it is illegal for women to drive. Many have in the past been sentenced to floggings when caught behind the wheel, even if they were driving accompanied by a man. What is more, the gender segregation rules of the country also prohibit women from using public transport, they must rely on a male driver to get around.
One woman known as the “Saudi Driving Girl”, Manal al-Sharif, is risking her life on a daily basis to overturn the driving ban for women.The 33 year old, divorced, single mum, posted a video of herself driving on YouTube. The next day she was arrested and put in jail for nine days for “incitement to public disorder.” The video clip went viral and she has since become a symbol of female emancipation in Saudi Arabia, using her notoriety to campaign for the full citizenhood of women, including the right to drive and vote. She recently started a pressure group called “My Right to Dignity” which aims to address the treatment of Saudi women as second class citizens.
During this time, she has been made redundant from her job consequently losing her apartment, she was reported dead in car crash by the Saudi news media, and she has received several death threats- all for sake of championing the rights of women in Saudi Arabia.
“In my country, a man comes of age at 18, a woman never,” said Manal. “She needs permission from a male guardian for every life choice”
She goes onto say: “I’m a single mother and I’m 33 years old, but I cannot even rent my own apartment without getting my father to sign a piece of paper saying he gives permission,” she says. “I went to renew my passport the other day and they told me to come back with my male guardian.”
“that is life, for a Saudi woman; wherever we go, whatever we achieve, we are the property of a man.”
Saudi Arabia is governed by Islamic law known as the Sharia. Whilst there is no legal rule of law that says women should not drive, the driving ban stems from the deep rooted cultures and traditions of a deeply conservative, some may even say misogynistic, country.
In a society where men not only dominate, but a woman (of any age) is validated only by her male guardian, Manal Al-Sharif’s courage and determination is truly inspiring, even breathtaking.
Click here to support Manal and the campaign to give Saudi women the right to drive.