Revving Up The Fight For Equal Rights

Max Fisher covers a renewed push among Saudi women for expanded civil rights:

Saudi Arabian women are subject to some of the most severe legal restrictions in the world, of which the de facto driving ban is perhaps the best-known — and it has become the focus of a campaign by Saudi women for broader rights. The campaign has grown dramatically since it began, in May 2011, with a single drive. A 32-year-old information technology consultant named Manal al-Sharif was filmed by women’s rights activist Wajeha al-Huwaider driving around and reeling off arguments for dropping the ban. The two posted the video to YouTube, and police arrested Sharif the next day, charging her with disturbing public order. Sharif was released after a week in prison, but that video, and her passionate message, had already spread among the country’s increasingly well-educated and well-connected women.

Juan Cole rips the country after political pressure forced many women to abandon their driving protests, which were scheduled for Saturday:

It is about the most pitiful thing one can imagine– a state that disallows protest altogether as a means of enforcing a brutal patriarchal order that deprives women of the basic right of mobility. Inability to drive limits women’s ability to pursue not just their careers (Saudi women have high rates of literacy and education) but even just hobbies. Wealthy women have chauffeurs, but contrary to stereotypes not all Saudi families are rich or can afford to hire drivers. Supportive Saudi husbands sometimes have to spend a lot of their time driving family members around.

Saudi comedian Hisham Fageeh made the video above to coincide with the protests:

While the video has a light-hearted vibe, the ironic satire is sharp, and because the reasons given by ultra-conservative Saudis for keeping women away from the driver’s seat are so surreal, they do make easy targets. There’s the claim, for instance, that driving might damage women’s reproductive organs. “Ovaries, so safe and well,” Fageeh intones, “so you can make lots and lots of babies.”

“Your feet is your only carriage, but only inside the house. And when I say it I mean it,” Fageeh sings in another line, addressing Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship law which strictly limits a woman’s ability to travel, work, open a bank account, marry, or undergo certain medical procedures without the consent of a male guardian. In some cases, this guardian could be a young son.

And, finally, Caitlin Dewey reminds us that Saudi Arabia is just one of a number of countries that maintain severe restrictions on women’s rights:

According to one measurement, though, there are actually several countries that rank lower on women’s rights than Saudi Arabia. The World Economic Forum, which publishes the preeminent ranking on gender gap issues, ranked Saudi Arabia 10th from the bottom in its 2013 report – ahead of Mali, Morocco, Iran, Cote d’Ivoire, Mauritania, Syria, Chad, Pakistan and Yemen. Women’s rights abuses are by no means limited to North Africa, West Africa or the Middle East, though that’s where we tend to hear such stories most frequently.