Driving a car is a right of passage in America. We turn 16 and the world is at our fingertips; we can sing at the top of our lungs, roll down the windows, sip our iced coffee, and feel the breeze on our face. There is much to be said for this freedom. Just ask the women in Saudi Arabia.
“I Will Drive My Own Car”
Since 1979 women have not been allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. There is no official law banning the practice but women are often arrested if they do so for “immoral behavior.” The thought is this: that the temptation of a man at the wheel is too much for women to resist.
In 1990, many women demonstrated by driving their cars out of a Safeway parking lot – and were retaliated against by being fired, harassed, and arrested.
So they are trying again. One activist, Manal Al-Sharif, shared a video on YouTube on May 20 explaining why on June 17th the women in Saudi Arabia are going to start driving their own car, prohibition be damned. The new campaign, “I Will Drive My Own Car,” was started by a few female activists and has spread like wildfire on the Internet.
Manal also posted a video of herself speaking with another activist (who posted a video of herself driving a car on International Women’s Day in 2008) about why driving is important to them:
But by May 22nd, Al-Sharif had been arrested, twice. She was held for five days on charges of driving and inciting other women to drive.
The social outcry for Manal was remarkable. On Twitter, the #Women2Drive is still aflame. Women who plan to start driving on June 17 started another: #FreeManal. (For those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, the hashtag (#) attached to a string of words allows people to read all the tweets that are tagged with the words).
Twitter is being used for another, even more important purpose: to disseminate religious views about female drivers. The prohibition on driving, it turns out, is not in the Qur’an or the Prophet Muhammed’s teachings. One religious scholar said: “I do not call on women to drive, but rather I respect a woman’s right to drive if she wishes to do so.”
Another religious scholar admitted that his daughters drive when they go on vacation.
Still another said: “Prophet Muhammad’s wife Aisha led an army on camel-back yet in #Saudi today a woman was arrested for driving.”
One woman even wrote to Oprah: “@Oprah dear oprah, read about #woman2drive #FreeManal it’s a live case and we need your help.”
Since Manal’s arrest many other women have posted videos of themselves driving on YouTube. And Saudi women are calling on Western media to take up their story.
As an activist, I am in constant awe of the ever-increasing role social networking plays in grassroots movements. The power and influence is still being defined and for causes like these, it is priceless. It is about more than informing the world; it’s about connecting with the women and men who are living in oppression. Spreading the word and changing perspectives are two of the most important tenets for social change. And social networking is the best way to do it.