Imagine living in a country where your liberty was wholly determined by your gender.
Not in a world where your gender might result in you earning a little bit less, or living a little bit longer (which is not to say that the earning a little bit less thing is not OUTRAGEOUS). But a world where there are actual, enforceable, laws in place that say that you can’t do certain things because of your pesky XX chromosomes.
That was the exact situation facing Saudi woman, Manal al-Sharif. Manal was living in the last country in the world where women weren’t allowed to drive. Although the rule wasn’t a law made by parliament, it was a custom enshrined in religious fatwas that were rigorously enforced by authorities.
In this TED Talk, Manal speaks about her experience of fighting for a woman’s right to bear car keys. It is fascinating, confronting and inspiring:
We wanted to know how the authorities would respond on the actual day, June 17, when women go out and drive. So this time I asked my brother to come with me and drive by a police car. It went fast. We were arrested, signed a pledge not to drive again, released.
Arrested again, he was sent to detention for one day, and I was sent to jail. I wasn’t sure why I was sent there, because I didn’t face any charges in the interrogation. But what I was sure of was my innocence.
I didn’t break a law, and I kept my abaya — it’s a black cloak we wear in Saudi Arabia before we leave the house — and my fellow prisoners kept asking me to take it off, but I was so sure of my innocence, I kept saying, “No, I’m leaving today.”
Outside the jail, the whole country went into a frenzy, some attacking me badly, and others supportive and even collecting signatures in a petition to be sent to the king to release me. I was released after nine days.
June 17 comes. The streets were packed with police cars and religious police cars, but some hundred brave Saudi women broke the ban and drove that day. None were arrested. We broke the taboo.