By Rachel Hosie @rachel_hosie
In Saudi Arabia, women are forbidden to drive – it damages our ovaries, apparently.
But one woman is fighting to change that, and that woman is 38-year-old Manal al-Sharif.
One evening six years ago, al-Sharif was on her way home from a doctor’s appointment and was struggling to find a taxi. Men in cars kept driving past, jeering at, harassing and following her – she was terrified.
espite having a driving licence and owning a car, she wasn’t allowed to drive due to Saudi law (she’d bought the car when she was married and could afford a driver).
“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?”
In 2011, al-Sharif made history by filming a video of her driving and posting it on YouTube – it racked up over 700,000 views in just one day.
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.
It was when Al-Sharif went to the US for three months for work that she realised just how differently women were being treated. She stopped wearing her hijab and only wore it at work once back in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi women face many forms of oppression, but it’s driving that al-Sharif feels most strongly about: “I believe that when women drive in my country, that will liberate them,” she said. “We don’t have pedestrianised cities, there’s no proper public transportation. Driving is the key.
“It means that women are independent, they can leave the house, they don’t have to wait for a male guardian. Guardianship is the source of all evil when it comes to binding women.
“I’m 38 years old, I have two sons, I pay my own bills, but legally I’m a minor. I can’t do anything. I have to go to my father to get my passport. It’s outrageous. Once women can drive, all this evil will fall.”