Saudi Arabia, 26 June: While crossing the so-called restrictions that deter women to move freely in the Country like Saudi Arabia, a woman was called prostitute and received backlash for her only crime of standing against restrictions imposed on women.
In 2011, When 38-year-old Manal al-Sharif was on her way home from a doctor’s appointment and was searching for a taxi. Men in cars kept driving past, jeering at, harassing and following her – she was terrified.
“Why do I have to be humiliated?” she said to The Times. “Why can’t I drive, when I have a car and a licence? 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?”
She then decided to bring a major change and filmed a video of herself driving which is prohibited in Saudi Arabia and hence she became the victim in deeply conservative kingdom.
“The worst backlash was from the religious establishment,” she says. “They took the Friday sermons, and they called me things like a prostitute for just driving a car,” the Wire reported.Al-Sharif was sent to jail where she spent a week riddled with cockroaches for the offence of “driving while female.” She received threats on her life after which her father had to appeal to the Saudi king for her release.
Al-Sharif’s family were affected too – her brother and his family were forced to leave the country because they were being harassed so much.
But the video of her driving had already gone viral, garnering over 700,000 views in just a day, energizing the global moment to drop Saudi Arabia’s prohibitions on women driving.
Today, the 38-year-old activist is still one of the loudest voices calling for the kingdom to withdraw the driving ban. In her new memoir, “Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening,” al-Sharif describes growing up in Mecca as a firm believer in conservative Islam. When she turned 18, she enrolled in King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. She met liberal women who didn’t cover their faces in public, and her world view began to change. The notion of male guardianship began to grate on her.
“A woman is considered a minor from the time she’s born until the time she dies,” she says. “When women drive in my country, they will have the voice and the power and the belief that they can do anything and they will act on ending the guardianship system.”
Al-Sharif says her campaign #women2drive continues to push the limits of what’s socially acceptable in Saudi Arabia. In the coming months, her memoir “Daring to Drive” will also be published in Arabic.
“There are a lot of brave actions happening, more and more girls posting videos of themselves driving and more and more men are joining us,” she says. “We’ll continue campaigning, using all the tools that we can.”