You’ve probably heard of and seen Manal al-Sharif even if you don’t remember her name. In 2011 she dared to drive in Saudi Arabia. The video went to YouTube and Facebook and she was subsequently detained for her actions. Manal is an advocate for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia and a women’s rights activist. To my knowledge it’s not illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, but it is not promoted or approved by the authorities. Manal and the other women who were in the campaign weren’t breaking the law, they were just pushing back against expectation and asserting their right to mobility. Her video prompted other women to take to the wheel and several others were also detained and released only on promising they wouldn’t drive again.
Manal borrowed her brother’s car for her drive and as a result he was also detained, harassed into quitting his job and eventually left the country with his family. Her father has to attend sermons condemning female drivers for not stopping Manal from driving. In addition to her detainment, Manal was also defamed, threatened with rape and death, and arrested without charges.
People should be able to get around if they need or want to and while there are still plenty of issues facing those with mobility issues, if the only thing standing in your way is moral disapproval, I say go for it. Women’s rights are curtailed and suppressed in so many ways, so wherever there’s the opportunity to expand them, especially if there’s not a legal barrier, we should take it.
It takes a lot of courage to stand up to oppression and Manal shows that sometimes all it takes it one person to make a big change. Saudi women pushed back and kept driving, cracking the fear and the taboo surrounding women driving.
To much of the world, Manal is a hero and to many in her own country she is viewed as a traitor. It’s really a shame and I truly hope that all of her countrymen come to see her value and to realize that we need women like Manal to make a positive difference in the world. Her efforts and courage brought this issue to light and changed things for the better. She encourages people to not ask when something will happen, but to take action to make it happen now. Valuable words from an incredible woman.
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