The most controversial YouTube clip in Saudi Arabia this week doesn’t feature obscenity, violence, or sex.
It’s an 8-minute video of a woman driving a car.
Technically, Manal al-Sharif didn’t do anything wrong. She has a valid U.S. driver’s license, recognized in Saudi Arabia, and she had her brother’s permission as well as her brother himself beside her as her requisite accompanying male relative.
Yet Saudi police arrested and imprisoned Manal for eight days for defying a long-standing ban against women driving.
That’s why Saudi women activists have created an urgent Change.org petition to demand that King Abdullah and the Saudi royal family drop charges against Manal. They describe the petition as “a call for solidarity with Saudi women’s rights.”
Click here to add your name to their petition.
In Saudi Arabia, women cannot vote, hold property, or even open a bank account alone. Most institutions are segregated by sex, with unequal access for women—in other words, gender apartheid.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world in which women cannot drive. Additional prohibitions against taking buses, riding bikes, and appearing in public alone essentially rule out independent travel for women.
For Manal, as a divorced, working mother, restrictions on travel create an immense burden. Her male relatives can’t drive her daily, but private drivers cost an unaffordable $300-400 per month. Taxis are scarce, and drivers frequently exploit and harass female passengers.
Manal’s act of protest is part of a historic campaign encouraging Saudi women to begin driving en masse on June 17. Click here to join the petition to have charges against her dropped and bolster her efforts.
Without significant support, Manal may face harsh penalties. Saudi cleric and government leader Sheik Ghazi al-Shemri is calling for Manal to "be flogged in the women’s marketplace as a model and a lesson."
Leading Saudi women’s activists tell us that placing international pressure on King Abdullah is critical to ensuring Manal’s safety — and to galvanizing the June 17 movement.
Click here to add your name to this petition urging King Abdullah to drop these unjust charges against Manal al-Sharif:
Thanks for taking action,
– Weldon and the Change.org team