The Arab spring took a different turn in Saudi Arabia with today’s #Women2Drive campaign. Organizing via Facebook and Twitter, Saudi women hit city roads in protest of the ban on women’s driving. Many of them asked their passengers to film their drives and uploaded the videos to YouTube, following the example of Manal al-Sharif, a single mother who posted a video of herself driving solo last month:
Manal al-Sharif was arrested and jailed, but this didn’t stop other women from taking the car keys. The New Yorker has aggregated several of the videos from today’s campaign here.
The right to drive is one of several rights denied to women in Saudi Arabia, the only Muslim country in which women cannot drive. In a powerful opinion essay about this act of civil disobedience, Farzaneh Milani argues that restricting women’s mobility is about more than driving cars:
It is about dominating, excluding and subordinating women. It is about barring them from political activities, preventing their active participation in the public sector, and making it difficult for them to fully exercise the rights Islam grants them to own and manage their own property. It is about denying women the basic human right to move about freely.
And while The New York Times reported that today’s protest was hardly earth-shattering—apparently only several dozen women drove—I prefer to think of them, as Milani does, as freedom riders heralding future change:
the women defying the ban on motorized mobility are in fact demanding an eventual overhaul of the entire Saudi political system. They want not just to drive but to remap the political geography of their country.
I would only add that I’m not surprised that Manal al-Sharif is a single working mother. You go, global mamas!