Manal al-Sharif is an activist who played an important role in the Women to Drive movement, which fought against the ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia. In this guide, we'll take a look at her life, her vocal opposition to oppression, and the influence she's had on the women's rights movement.

How Manal al-Sharif Has Spread Her Message

Manal al-Sharif on the Women to Drive Movement

Women With a Cause

The troubles faced by most women in the modern world aren't as extreme as the obstacles that stand in the way of Saudi women. Nevertheless, activists from North America to Asia confront different levels of discrimination every day. Here are just a few women who have used their influence to shed light on societal issues.

  1. Gabi Gregg: Advocate for body positivity and plus size fashion
  2. Jackie Aina: Speaks out against racism in the cosmetics industry
  3. Mika Brzezinski: Opposes trivial journalism and celebrity culture
  4. Yoyo Cao: Uses fashion to defy stereotypes

Manal al-Sharif Driving in Saudi Arabia

More Information

Manal al-Sharif is a women's rights activist who co-founded the "Women to Drive" movement. She was born on April 25, 1979 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. She graduated from King Abdulaziz University with a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science. Back in 2002, she started working as an IT Security Specialist for Aramco, an oil company based in her home country.

In 1957, the Saudi Arabian government banned women from driving on public roads. In 1990, 47 women protested against the ban by driving around in Riyadh, the country's capital. They were all arrested, and those involved who were working for the government were fired.

Since then, many other people have protested by driving around the country. In 2011, Manal al-Sharif helped start the "Women to Drive" Facebook campaign, which was inspired by the Arab Spring, a wave of protests influenced by social media. In the same year, she, along with fellow activist Wajeha al-Huwaider, recorded a video of herself driving in the city of Al-Khobar. Throughout the video, she talked about the many issues women face when it comes to commuting in Saudi Arabia.

A couple of days later, Al-Sharif's video was removed from YouTube and she was arrested by both the religious police and the Mabahith, Saudi's "secret service." Her Facebook page called "Teach Me How to Drive So I Can Protect Myself" was also removed. Following her arrest, supporters of the movement started reuploading translated versions of her video clip.

Prior to her page's deletion, she asked women with licenses from other countries to protest by driving in Saudi Arabian cities on June 17, 2011. According to her, around a hundred women participated in the event, and not a single person was arrested despite the heavy presence of police who were aware the campaign.

While Al-Sharif was in prison, news outlets all across the world started talking about her arrest. This brought more attention to the driving ban, which prompted activists from other countries to start supporting her cause. In Italy, a Facebook campaign called "I Drive With Manal" was established. In Berlin, a radical feminist group known as "FEMEN" held a "topless protest" outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy. Even Hillary Clinton who, at the time, was the U.S. Secretary of State, openly supported the "Women to Drive" campaign.

In 2012, Al-Sharif became one of the first people to have ever been awarded the "Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent," which was established by the Human Rights Foundation. According to her, when she attended a forum in Norway to receive the award, she was pressured to leave her job. While she wasn't necessarily fired, she said that she was "marginalized for her activism," which led to her immediate resignation.

After leaving her job at Aramco in 2012, she moved to Dubai and started working for an IT company known as "Blue Networks." Since her first marriage ended in a divorce, she had to leave her first child behind because her ex-husband retained legal custody over their son. Al-Sharif would often fly back to Saudi Arabia in order to visit him.

Eventually, she remarried and gave birth to her second son in 2014. Under Saudi Arabian laws, a woman cannot marry a foreigner without the permission of the Ministry of Interior in Riyadh. Al-Sharif's application was denied, so she and her new husband had a civil marriage ceremony in Canada. This means that her marriage and her second child are not officially recognized in her home country.

In 2017, Al-Sharif released her first book entitled "Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening." In it, she talks about her personal life and how she became an "accidental activist." She also gives readers a glimpse of what it's like to be a woman living in an ultra-conservative kingdom.

In September 2017, King Salman issued a royal decree that gives Saudi women the right to be issued driver's licenses, effective June 2018. Al-Sharif believes that more change will come once the kingdom's leadership is passed on to a younger generation. Only time will tell whether or not this will truly be the case.

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