Sep 27th, 2017, 03:57 PM

The Fast and The Oppressed: Women Behind the Wheel

By Signi Livingstone-Peters
Manal Al-Sharif. Image Credit: Flickr/Miguel Rubalcava
A women's rights activist, Manal Al-Sharif, is helping Saudi women go on the road.

A bill was passed last Tuesday lifting the ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia, and on the front lines of this long and difficult fight, is Manal Al-Sharif. She's a 38 year old Saudi women’s rights activist who has been jailed and punished in the past due to her outward objection to the ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia.

Image Credit: Flickr/Jean Bosco SIBOMANA

In 2011, Sharif outwardly flouted the religious law by filming herself driving a car in Saudi Arabia to protest the prohibition. Again, on June 17th, Sharif uploaded a video of herself driving, encouraging other Saudi women and activists to participate in the campaign and to drive as well. “I felt like I was driving for all Saudi Women. And in a sense, I was,” Sharif tells The Guardian. Despite her arrest of nine days after her second uprising, Sharif continued to speak out for women's rights by starting a twitter hashtag campaign, #Women2Drive to further mobilize her social media presence, advocating for the thousands of Saudi women that live under crushing oppression. Sharif tells The Guardian,"If someone posted a video of a woman driving, it might normalize the experience and show Saudi citizens there was nothing dangerous about it. I also wanted to prove that many of us already knew how to drive—that we had licenses and even cars. And I wanted to prove that the Saudi authorities would not stop a female driver." Sharif received multiple death threats, was called mentally ill, and accused of degrading Muslim values.

Image Credit: Flickr/Manuel Rubalcava

Before September 26th, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world that where both local and foreign women were banned from driving. Although there was no technical legal law in place stating this, police in Saudi Arabia enforce religious ruleswhich are often much more strict. According to Independent UK, "In 2011, Shaima Jastaina was sentenced to 10 lashes for breaking the driving ban." 

"Low oil prices have limited the government jobs that many Saudis have long relied on, and the kingdom is trying to push more citizens, including women, into private sector employment. But some working Saudi women say hiring private drivers to get them to and from work eats up much of their pay, diminishing the incentive to work," says The New York Times. Beyond the positive global reaction to the lifting of the driving ban, Saudi Arabia's economy is looking up. 

Image Credit: Flickr/sacmclubs

However, despite the fact that the bill was passed by Saudi Arabia's King Salman issuing women Saudi Arabia the right to drive in June 2018, persecution against women is still an issue and Saudi Arabia. Women are far from reaching equality. Sharif says that the next goal would be to end guardianship laws—laws that ensure that Saudi women have a male "wali", or guardian. This could be any male figure: an uncle, husband, or brother, and all women must have consent from their guardian for any large decision of activity such as traveling, marriage, surgery, divorce, or obtaining a passport. Sharif has since started a twitter hashtag campaign, #IAmMyOwnGuardian. Keep up the good work ladies and fight on!

Image Credit: Twitter/manal_alsharif