Driving was illegal for women in Saudi Arabia. Meet Manal Al Sharif, the woman who broke that law, went to prison for it and fled the country, all in the name of gender equality.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where a woman can go to prison for driving a car. Manal Al Sharif dared to break the law, on camera.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia practices an extreme interpretation of Islam that imposes harsh curbs on women. Women must live under the supervision of a male guardian; they need their guardians permission to get married, divorced, or even set up a bank account.
And despite the country having very limited public transport, women are not allowed to drive. But Manal al-Sharif decided to take a stand. Miss al-Sharif worked for Saudi Arabia’s largest oil company and in 2009 she was posted to America.
One of the first things she did was learn how to drive.
When Manal returned to Saudi, two years later, she was not prepared to give up her new found freedom.
Manal used social media to rally for a day of action. Calling all Saudi women who could drive to get in the car and take to the roads. Manal defiantly drove through the streets of Riyadh with her brother in the passenger seat, filming.
She posted the video on YouTube. It was viewed 700,000 times in one day. But not all the attention Manal received was wanted. Saudi secret police came to her house. She was arrested and sentenced to nine days in prison. Afraid for her life, Manal fled the country. She’s still campaigning for women’s rights and hopes to return home one day.
Since driving in Saudi Arabia Manal has inspired others to get behind the wheel in her home country as an act of protest. Things are slowly changing. In May 2017, King Salman issued an order allowing women to access education and healthcare without the consent of a male guardian. However guardianship is still extremely limiting for women. In this deeply conservative kingdom the fight for women’s rights has a long road ahead.
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