The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.
Earlier this year, Saudi women started a movement to be allowed to drive. It sounds ridiculous — that women cannot get behind the wheel of a car and drive — and yet this is their reality. Although there is no actual law that says women are not allowed to drive cars, there is a religious edict that insists on the segregation of men and women; therefore, if women need to get anywhere, a man has to drive them — even if it’s a driver for hire.
Here’s a clip of a Saudi woman, Manal al-Sharif, video taped herself driving and explaining why this simple act of independence is necessary for women. She also started a twitter and Facebook account with which to get her message out to the world. Her efforts were ceased by the government; she was arrested, and her accounts and YouTube videos were completely turned off. Thank goodness for technology that allows us to have access to the video of such a champion:
This is why in a country with such strict and inflexible ideas about the roles of women — women who have to be covered from head to toe — women who still cannot drive publicly — women who are stoned for the acts of their rapists — and women who must be segregated from the company of men outside the walls of their home — have just been given the right to vote for the first time. Saudi King Abdullah makes this new law available to women in 2015.
According to Abdullah, a wealthy reformer and leader, “We refuse to marginalize the role of women in Saudi society and in every aspect, within the rules of Sharia,” or the Islamic law that governs the lives of men and women in Saudi.
It’s the suffrage movement of the Saudi women.
In our own history of the suffragist movement — all women, despite their class or race, were given the right to vote for the equal representation of their rights (loosely speaking, of course), in 1920 via the Nineteenth Amendment, and yet the Equal Rights Amendment, which affords women equal rights, has yet to be ratified. Women are still waiting for that to happen — and fighting for it. We also getting closer, it appears, to having the first female President. As Denmark celebrates its first female leader, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, it is evident that the tide is changing — societies are adapting — in the slow ways with which they adapt to that which is in-congruent with their archaic ideals of gender.
Almost 100 years later, Saudi women get the same right — the right to have their chance at choice, to assert their voices, and demand that their rights are adhered to — on the other side of the world. Impatient with the way these patriarchal nations treat women — as secondary entities — receptacles of laws and norms and traditions and stereotypes that are dictated by the men that fear them, loathe them, abuse them, and obey some banal attitude that these women need protecting — I wait for the day when men will look upon women as their equals in intellect and in wisdom.
In 1920, women had a voice, which is what the right to vote gives human beings. The right to choose who will represent your other inalienable rights as a human being as well as which laws will be passed and how they affect all people. In 2015, Saudi women will get this right, and hopefully, more Saudi women will react against laws that place them in the back seat of cars as passengers, without agency or freedom. Women like Manal al-Sharif.