Saudi’s Women2Drive campaign presents petition to King
The petition, which boasts over 600 signatures, aims to “encourage women who have obtained driving licences from neighbouring countries to begin driving whenever necessary” and “establish driving schools for women and [begin] issuing licences”, according to the AFP news site.
Demonstrations were expected to take place at Saudi embassies across the globe.
On 17 June, women with international drivers licences were urged to use their cars to mark the first anniversary of the organised ‘protest drive’, which saw al-Sharif and hordes of female supporters get behind the wheel in sharp defiance of Saudi Arabia’s driving laws.
But she has not been able to participate due to growing concerns for her personal safety and that of her family.
According to news reports al-Sharif has received a string of death threats from un-named ‘Saudi officials’. She is also the subject of a fatwa issued by a hard-line Muslim cleric.
Al-Sharif became a symbol of the struggle for women’s rights last year when she uploaded a youtube video of herself driving across the streets of Khobar wearing a black headscarf and sunglasses. The video attracted over 500,000 hits before being pulled from the video-sharing site (see WVoN story).
“We want to change the country,” she said in the video. “A woman, during an emergency, what’s she going to do? God forbid her husband’s with her and he has a heart attack. …
“Not all of us live luxurious lives – are spoiled like queens and have drivers,” she said, in reference to the fact that many women must pay a large portion of their salaries to drivers.
She was later arrested and imprisoned for nine days, sparking a furore on Facebook and Twitter that eventually led to the formation of Women2Drive.
For al-Sharif, the campaign is about women’s rights in all areas of life, not just driving.
Speaking at the Oslo Freedom Forum in Norway in May 2012, al-Sharif touched on a number of other struggles faced by Saudi women, including the lack of a right to vote or hold public office until 2015, or the lack of freedom to leave the country without permission from a male guardian.
Yet her continuing efforts to fight for women’s rights in the region have led to increasing complications in all areas of her life, including the need to quit her job in order to speak up on stage in Oslo. Her former employer, Saudi Aramco, refused to comment on the situation.
Although al-Sharif doesn’t expect reform to come quickly in Saudi Arabia, she hopes her own story will inspire other women to fight for change. The petition and ongoing demonstrations are a testimony to her bravery and optimism.