We don’t choose to be activists. We can choose to support certain causes and sign petitions for it. However, activists do not wait for a petition to sign. They are the ones that take the first step to initiate a new movement and make a new breakthrough. Manal Al-Sharif is the feminist activist from Saudi Arabia, a country where it is forbidden by custom for women to drive. In this Ted video, Al-Sharif talked about her experience fighting for women’s rights by simply driving on the street.
It was not easy for her to hold onto her belief. While she is a hero to the rest of the world as a woman activist, she is a villain and a traitor in her country. In Saudia Arabia, women are considered the inferior gender in every way. This is why they are willing to accept the ridiculous reason that forbids women to drive, that “the percentage of rape, adultery, illegitimate children, drug abuse [and] prostitution in countries women drive is higher than countries that women don’t drive”. The irony in this statement is that Saudi Arabia is the only country that forbids women to drive in this modern society.
After she realized that there were no laws forbidding women to drive, she began to encourage all Saudi women to drive by videotaping herself and uploading it on Youtube. Unsurprisingly, she was harassed online after she posted the video. It did not stop her. She continued to challenge this by intentionally driving past a police officer, who proceeded to put her in jail. She stayed there for nine days in spite of the fact that she had no specific charge. After her release, no Saudi Arabian woman has ever been arrested again for driving.
This is only the beginning of the women right movement in Saudi Arabia. Women drivers are slowly being accepted by the society. The moral of her story is that if we have a thought or a dream, then we should carry it out in action without any hesitate. As Al-Sharif had spoken in the Ted talk, “I will never defend myself with words only, I will use actions”.
Yuen Chun Lee
Boston University School of Management
Link to the video:
Manal Al-Sharif: A Saudi woman who dared to drive