Manal al-Sharif: When you see injustice, speak up!

edited by Philipp Blom

My sto­ry real­ly is sim­ple. I found myself in a chal­lenge. I was a Sau­di woman, liv­ing in Sau­di Ara­bia. I was a sin­gle mom, I was work­ing as an engi­neer pay­ing my rent, I had a driver’s license and I had a car. How­ev­er, I could only dri­ve it inside the gat­ed com­mu­ni­ty where I used to live.

One day I had to go to the clin­ic in the city and I couldn’t find a dri­ver to take me back home so I walked in the streets and I almost got kid­napped. We are talk­ing about some­body who is an engi­neer, some­one who is pro­fes­sion­al. It was very humil­i­at­ing to me that cars were chas­ing me and peo­ple were call­ing me names and one guy, he pulled down the win­dow and it’s like an invi­ta­tion to go with him. So I was treat­ed very bad­ly and I was cry­ing in the street like a kid.

I talked to my col­league the next day. I was so angry and he said there is no law that pre­vents you from dri­ving. I said, what do you mean, women can’t dri­ve. He said, no there is no law and he sent me the traf­fic code. That day, I spend the night read­ing the traf­fic code line by line. He was right.

It’s always women who pay the high­est price. I grew up to be a good Mus­lim. We went through so much preach­ing in schools. You have to be ful­ly cov­ered, you have to walk next to the wall, you can­not wear pants, you can­not make your hair­style the West­ern way, you can­not say “Mer­ry Christ­mas” to non-Mus­lims.

„YOUR WORLD GROWS AS BIG AS YOUR MIND GROWS.”

Win­ston Churchill once said: Fear is a reac­tion, courage is a deci­sion. So I took a deci­sion. If you know my coun­try, as a woman in Sau­di Ara­bia I have to cov­er my face, I can­not use my voice, I can­not sit with men and talk to you like this. I would always be at the back doors. And they would see me through a TV. Secured. So, we are invis­i­ble as women in my coun­try. But some­times your des­tiny calls you.

When you lis­ten to that call­ing, I think, and you act upon it, that is when you take the deci­sion. That is real­ly impor­tant. What you con­sid­er coura­geous is stu­pid for some­one else. When peo­ple ask me how I found my courage, I answer that I didn’t even think of it as coura­geous. I just felt like I need­ed to take an action.

Com­ing from a soci­ety where you can­not speak your mind, and then pay a high prize for being your­self, the most coura­geous thing I did in my life was to break the chains with­in me and be myself and love who I am. That I’m dif­fer­ent than any­one else. I think that was the most dif­fi­cult thing. And I think it is also courage to face sit­u­a­tions that real­ly chal­lenge you and you just try to be open and to observe. It takes a while for you to go back and real­ly change your mind. It doesn’t hap­pen right away.

I think it is impor­tant for our kids to give them these envi­ron­ments where they are real­ly open to be who they are, to speak for them­selves, and to accept if oth­er peo­ple speak total­ly dif­fer­ent than them because we are indi­vid­u­als. I think that’s courage, to allow peo­ple to be who they are and to be who you are. That’s real­ly coura­geous.

VITA

Man­al al-Sharif is one of the most impor­tant voic­es of the women’s rights move­ment in the Mid­dle East. In May 2011, the mul­ti-award-win­ning women’s rights activist got behind the wheel in the streets of Kho­bar City to protest the roy­al ban on dri­ving a car imposed on women in Sau­di Ara­bia. She released a video of the protest on YouTube and prompt­ly got arrest­ed. Her action inspired a move­ment for equal­i­ty, which led the Sau­di Roy­al Fam­i­ly to rethink their posi­tion so that final­ly, in June 2018, the ban on dri­ving for women in Sau­di Ara­bia was lift­ed.

The co-founder of the Women2Drive move­ment, CEO and founder of the Women2Hack Acad­e­my, pro­vides per­son­al insights into their fight against oppres­sion and her quest for equal­i­ty, told through her sto­ries of fear­less attempts to break through taboos. Man­al al-Sharif wants to inspire peo­ple to stand up for their beliefs and dri­ve change.

She was award­ed the Václav Hav­el Prize for Cre­ative Dis­sent at the Oslo Free­dom Forum, TIME mag­a­zine named her one of the “100 Most Influ­en­tial Peo­ple in the World”, and the Unit­ed Nations Human Rights hailed her as “A Dri­ving Force for Change”. Her best­seller “Dar­ing to Dri­ve: A Sau­di Woman’s Awak­en­ing” was list­ed as num­ber one book for the 2017 sum­mer read by Oprah Mag­a­zine.