Manal al-Sharif’s path to activism began simply enough: In 2011, the Saudi woman filmed herself driving a car, then uploaded the video to YouTube. Ordinarily such a video might not get much notice, but because it’s not socially acceptable for women to drive in Saudi Arabia, where there is a de facto ban, Sharif’s video went viral.
Sharif describes driving as an act of civil disobedience: “For me, driving — or the right to drive — is not only about moving from A to B; it’s a way to emancipate women,” she says. “It gives them so much liberty. It makes them independent.”
.. The private sector itself in Saudi Arabia, 90 percent of the people working there are non-Saudis, so also the contradictions here make me mad, because you don’t allow me to mix with Saudis or men in general all my life, but then you enforce a perfect stranger to be living in my house, to be driving my own car and have my own phone number. …
Most of them don’t even know how to drive! My first driver, I had to teach him how to drive. He didn’t even know the signs. … He didn’t know the city. He didn’t speak Arabic.
.. On undergoing female genital mutilation as a girl
The one, really, who circumcised us was a barber. He was my father’s friend. My mom herself was circumcised and she told us the story that she ran away when they cut one labia and the other one they couldn’t cut, and she was bleeding and she hid in the neighbor’s house.
It was shocking to me that [my] mom, she put us through the same thing. But the pressure from the society is huge … that a mother and a father can put their own daughters through so much pain just to abide by the society rules. This is how dangerous it is, that your own children, you put them through so much pain because you need to be obedient. …
I think the worst was not the pain, the worst is losing trust in the people you love. … It’s very difficult even to talk about today. … They didn’t explain to us what was going to happen. … These things bother me so much, that we put women through this pain, because it’s all about controlling us.