Tuesday June 13, 2017

June 13, 2017 Full Episode Transcript

Note: Transcripts may contain errors. If you wish to re-use all, or part of, a transcript, please contact CBC for permission. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. Copyright © CBC 2016

The Current Transcript for June 13, 2017

Host: Anna Maria Tremonti

Listen to the full episode

Prologue

[Music: Theme]

SOUNDCLIP

I didn't have anyone to take him. I can't just leave a child on the beach while I sail away. That's stupid.

ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: She was a world class athlete who shifted to what looked like a promising career in the Navy when she was told to choose between her child or her career. Laura Nash was a sub-lieutenant heading into training that would have seen her promoted. But as a single mom she couldn't afford to pay for extended childcare. And she says her military bosses had no interest in accommodating her. In half an hour, the CBC's Murray Brewster on a story that challenges the Defense Department's stated priority of recruiting women into the military. Also today women's rights half a world away.

SOUNDCLIP

I call it slavery. Women are enslaved in Saudi Arabia, because they need permission from a signed legal guardian to do anything in that life.

AMT: Manal Al-Sharif was a modern woman raised in Saudi Arabia working in technology. Already feeling the restrictions of a culture where she could do nothing go nowhere without the permission of a man. And then she discovered there is actually no law restricting women from driving just a strong cultural expectation. She got behind the wheel. She even went to jail for it. And now there's no turning back. Hear her story in an hour. And he famously observed all the world's a stage.

SOUNDCLIP

When I opened the gift of Shakespeare I find life in all its complexity and contradictions.

AMT: Hundreds of years later, is it time for Shakespeare to exit the classroom and give way to newer playwrights waiting in the wings or starting there. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.

Back To Top »

Barring the Bard: Should Shakespeare still be taught in schools?

Guests: Melissa Campbell Schwartz, Wayne Valleau

SOUNDCLIP

VOICE 1: Today we are going to be talking about William Shakespeare.

VOICE 2: Aah. God!

VOICE 1: I Know. A lot of you look forward to this about as much you look forward to root canal work. We are going to talk about Shakespeare as someone to write something very interesting. Now many who have seen Shakespeare done very much like this [speaks with an accent] OhTitus. Bring friend Heather.

[Laughter]

VOICE 1: But if you've seen Mr. Marlon Brando [speaks with an accent] No but Shakespeare can be different, friends, [unintelligible], countrymen. [Unintelligible]

AMT: Well to teach or not to teach that is the question. Many of us remember learning Shakespeare in high school, and some might have grown at the prospect as the students of Robin Williams character did in that movie Dead Poets Society. From the U.S. to the U.K. to South Africa, there was debate about Shakespeare's role in the classroom. Some question his relevance asking why one a playwright a white man who died more than 400 years ago takes up so much space in the English curriculum. But Shakespeare's defenders say his themes are timeless and universal and his work is at the root of English language storytelling. Students in Canada are divided as well. Here is what some teenagers that Gordon Bell high school in Winnipeg had to say.

SOUNDCLIP

VOICE 1: I think Shakespeare is still relevant but I'd like to see a lot more maybe like local literature or Canadian writing or indigenous writing I feel like that's definitely not in high schools as much as they should be.

VOICE 2: It's good to always be able to have a chance to see new writers but I don't believe Shakespeare should be gotten rid of all this. Really. You can have adults both.

VOICE 3: Yes I totally think that Shakespeare is relevant. His story telling how people become amazing murders like the way he structures a story, there is always a good death.

VOICE 4: The language is interesting but I have had tons of trouble with it and it hasn't helped me to learn anything.

VOICE 5: The old English has actually made me better at the New English I can more easily guess what the word means or I know what word it might be coming from.

VOICE 6: To sleep perchance to dream. Aye, there's the rub. For in that sleep of death what dreams may come. That's Shakespeare.

AMT: There is the rub indeed. So some schools have already swapped Shakespeare for Indigenous authors Melissa Campbell Schwartz a high school English and indigenous studies teacher with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board. And we have reached her in Ottawa. Hi

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: Good morning Anna Maria.

AMT: What changes did your school make to the English curriculum in regards to this?

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: About six years ago my principal asked if I would take on a course that's called indigenous voices and that was replacing our college level grade English course. And so the students completely study indigenous authors for their grade 11 English course. And so for that one year yes we did swap out Shakespeare for our indigenous authors in Canada.

AMT: Do you think there's too much Shakespeare taught in English classes today?

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: I do I don't think we need to teach him every grade for four years. I think it is an over representation.

AMT: But you weren't you didn't get rid of Shakespeare you just changed the grade 11 curriculum.

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: That's right. So the students still have Shakespeare in grade 9, 10 and 12. So they still get the exposure to the great stories and the arch types and the relationships with Shakespeare's plays. But as we are in Canada and we are 150 years into Canada it gives the kids a broader scope of the literature that's available to them.

AMT: And so in the Indigenous Studies courses that you're doing grade 11 and what you've changed out, what are they learning instead? Who are they talking about? Who are they reading?

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: So we still do the typical forms of literature. The kids still cover poetry. They still cover short stories. We still do a novel, depending on the students and the group that I have that year we have looked at plays. But I also spent a lot of time looking at media and looking at like deconstructing media and also constructing media. Looking at the stereotypes that we have in media and in film for Indigenous people.

AMT: And Which Indigenous authors are studyingÉ

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: So the novel that works very well in my particular class is The Absolute True Diary of a Part Time Indian from Sherman Alexie. We have a fairly common anthology that we work out of. And so we're looking at authors like Richard Wagamese me. We do Drew Hayden Taylor. We have looked at our local author Waub Rice. We've looked at some of the lyrics and the articles written from Wab Kinew. So there's a good diversity there.

AMT: And what's the reaction of the student?

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: In the very beginning because it was a swap out, I would say maybe for the first semester the students were a little bit surprised in the change. But now it's just what we do at my school and that is the grade 11 course and then the kids just accept it. When we get into the material and particularly with the novel they really do we actually enjoy the novel. Often about Grade 11 students are a little bit disengaged in English classes and they don't necessarily see the end of high school ahead of them and then that particular novel I'm often asking the kids to slow down a little bit because they're actually reading so far ahead I'm not getting into the fun activities that I want to do with them.

AMT: So they like it so much they can't stop reading.

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: Yes.

AMT: Hmm. Why do you think Shakespeare has played such a large role in Canadian curriculum for so long?

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: I think it's just accepted as the what we do, and it's in our book rooms and we don't necessarily question it that it's been on those course outlines for decades and just that's what people do. But it's a really exciting time now that we're actually stopping and asking the question; well why do we need to cover a Shakespeare play every year. There are so many other plays that you could do. So it it's nice that we're actually questioning it now.

AMT: So what you're saying is there hasn't been enough critical thinking around the use of that in the classroom.

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: No not at all. And it's really nice that we're at that tipping point right now.

AMT: There's so much to choose from I guess since Shakespeare wrote those plays.

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: Yes.

AMT: How long have you been teaching English literature?

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: I have been a teacher for 20 years.

AMT: And how did the students generally respond to Shakespeare?

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: I think as a teacher you have to try very hard to make it engaging. So at the grade 9 and 10 level you need to work really hard to get them excited to learn the language and figure out the language and figure out the relationships and the art types and the great universal sort of plotlines that are in the place, and then as they hit sort of grade 12 or so they've got that with them and they're a little bit more willing to jump into the play independently. But there's definitely, for teachers at the junior levels at the 9, 10 levels. You have to really do.. you have to sell that play. You have to try and modernize it for them. You can't just hand over someone's [unintelligible] and say OK what does this mean. You really do have to front load it and make it accessible for them.

AMT: What about students for whom English is not their first language, new Canadians?

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: Yes. And that's very much my teaching situation I would say about 60 percent 70 percent of my school is newer Canadians. And then about 10 percent of my student population is indigenous. For a lot of my students they've gone through the ESL program and they're working in their third fourth or fifth language. So working through Shakespeare language really presents a significant challenge for them. You know if you look at where the nouns and verbs are in the sentence or in different places they look different and so by the time they slog through something they've lost the interest in actually following the plot line, or in the characters. So I found it in my situation a little bit better in grade 12 and they've just had a little bit more experience with English and a little bit more exposure to different sort of sentence constructions and such.

AMT: How do your Indigenous students respond to the fact that you are including indigenous authors now?

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: I think in the beginning it was they were a little bit surprised. But again since we've been doing this course for about six years now at my school it's established. And for those of the kids who are indigenous in the classroom it's nice to see themselves reflected at school. And then it's a really beautiful place to be it's a beautiful place thing to witness. When I watch my Indigenous kids who have a lot of cultural knowledge turn and explain something to somebody that is newer to Canada and I'm just stepping back and I'm just watching it. I think it is a privilege teaching position to be in.

AMT: What questions do you think need to be asked then when we look at what is being taught in English classes?

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: I think we really need to drill down to the why. Why are you putting that text in front of that student? What are they going to get out of it? Are they going to see themselves in the world? Are they going to gain some kind of skill set? Are they being exposed to something that they've never been exposed to in a safe way? Then if it's any of those three reasons then it's a good text. But if it's a text that simply is going to frustrate someone because of the language because they're just not ready yet. In my case like [unintelligible], then let's hold off and not look at other things that a little bit more accessible and let's do the Shakespeare a little bit later.

AMT: OK. Well thanks for speaking with me today.

MELISSA CAMPBELL SCHWARTZ: Well thank you.

AMT: That's Melissa Campbell's Schwartz she's a high school English and indigenous studies teacher with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board. She is in Ottawa. Now we heard what students had to say about learning Shakespeare. There are parents and even some English teachers who also would like to bid a fond farewell to the bard. Others say parting with his words and wisdom would be such sweet sorrow indeed.

SOUNDCLIP

What a piece of work is a man. How noble in reason. How infinite in faculty. Inform and moving, how express and admirable. In action., how like an angel. In apprehension, how like a god. The beauty of the world the paragon of animals and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust. Man delights not to me. No. Nor woman either.

AMT: Sounds familiar. Well if you were paying attention in high school English you would recognize that as a passage from ACT 2 Scene 2 of Hamlet. My next guest spent twenty five years teaching that tragedy as well as other Shakespeare plays to students in Calgary. Wayne Valleau is now retired he believes today's students want and need to study those famous words as much as ever. Wayne Valleau in Calgary. Hello to you.

WAYNE VALLEAU: Good morning Anna Maria.

AMT: You heard our first guest what do you think of the idea that schools should consider teaching less Shakespeare so they can expose students to a wider range of authors including indigenous authors?

WAYNE VALLEAU: Well I think that first of all I really am impressed with the curriculum that is offered in a school in Ontario. And I would like to like to have opportunity to see it. I think it's something really good is being offered to those kids but I don't see why it couldn't be a situation of both. And Shakespeare offers so much so much beyond the normal expectation that we have of our daily reading that it looks into life in a much broader way. One of the biggest concerns that I have if we abandon Shakespeare, we're leaving a continuity that has gone on for well over 400 years and we don't have too much connection between life in other parts of the world, other parts of other parts of our own country even. So if we're not having Shakespeare or not having that continuity then we miss out on a great deal of a great deal of what's important to us all.

AMT: And at the same time should that continuity look at what continues beyond him?

WAYNE VALLEAU: Well of course, of course we don't want to abandon... I don't want to look past what we've got right in front of us but we don't know where we're going if we don't know where we've been. And I think that Shakespeare is a good part of what we've come from, it is our cultural heritage.

AMT: When you were teaching high school English were you able to bring in other texts from indigenous writers?

WAYNE VALLEAU: Yes. You know, with some difficulty it was when I was teaching school there wasn't I didn't have access as I would like to have had. I didn't find for instance a novel that I would like to have used. There were good novels, to be sure. But oftentimes the content was a little bit difficult for our high school students particularly sometimes sexually too explicit.

AMT: Well what would you say to those who argue Shakespeare is not relevant or relatable to today's students?

WAYNE VALLEAU: Shakespeare stories are universal. They may speak to human.. the human condition. Shakespeare's characters are profound, they're interesting, they're engaged. Juliet does a perfectly good example, the best example perhaps for a high school student. When she falls in love she's like a 14, 15 year old who is experiencing those powerful emotions for the first time. And when she does she expresses it so beautifully and so innocently and so profoundly that I think that high school students can and do relate very strongly to Juliet and Romeo of course the city boy.

AMT: And so when you were teaching high school English were your students...How were they feeling about learning Shakespeare?

WAYNE VALLEAU: For the most part they had a very good time with it. They enjoyed the classes enjoyed the characters they had expectations both positive and negative. But when they engaged with the text they found that the characters were really very interesting and the stories related to their lives very strongly.

AMT: And which player did you teach the most in?

WAYNE VALLEAU: Well at grade 12 it was always Hamlet. Less speak to expectations I think when you persuade the class of grade 12 students to do Henry the Fourth Part I, Falstaff being one of Shakespeare's great characters. But at the end of the year they said they all had a wonderful time in the class, but that they were disappointed for not having done Hamlet. They had missed out something that was part of their expectation. And consequently Hamlet became the Shakespeare play that shows every following.

AMT: So what do you think can be learned from Shakespeare that cannot be learned from other English literature?

WAYNE VALLEAU: Well I think that …That's a very difficult question but it sure deals with characters and many, many writers develop characters very well. I don't know, Shakespeare's characters are profound as I said before, but it's not so much that other characters aren't profound. It's that we share things with people throughout the centuries throughout the world, this experience of Shakespeare. And if we abandon that we recut some of the ties that bind, I think.

AMT: When you were teaching Shakespeare did we get to the issue of some people have an issue of relevance. Did you did you make the connection? I mean I think it's interesting there was just Shakespeare in the park in New York on the weekend and they had Julius Caesar looking like Donald Trump and it became a scandal. But that says something about how you can move Shakespeare into the modern world.

WAYNE VALLEAU: Well I think that was pretty funny, a kind of silly too. But I don't think that that's a very relevant way to connect Shakespeare to the modern world. And I'm not sure that I'm not sure that students expect that Shakespeare should be presented as a modern character. They would find that many of the students that I've talked with found that equally as goofy as I found it as I find it. The relevance of Shakespeare is in the humanity of the character rather than the appearance or the connectedness to the contemporary situation.

AMT: And yet I can remember covering world leaders in other places and realizing I was covering Macbeth.

WAYNE VALLEAU: Well sure. Well that speaks to the relevance of the play doesn't it? That speaks to its universality. Macbeth is a familiar figure if we follow history and we see him all over the place, and sure that's quite simply points to part of Shakespeare's relevance in any event.

AMT: You know there is the issue of the old English that it is quite complicated and makes, for many, Shakespeare hard to learn. How did you approach that?

WAYNE VALLEAU: It takes a lot of teacher involvement particularly in the early grades. We teach Shakespeare we teach our high school situation is through your high school read 10 11 and 12. So the grade 10s for the most part their first experience with Shakespeare. It takes a lot of teacher involvement in engaging with the students and engaging with the text at the same time. Reading it aloud and having the students read with it and it works. Students come very well prepared for the most part, when I was teaching in a largely middle class high school. So these students came very well prepared in terms of English for the most part, they had a really good word attack skills so they would read a word and understand it. But I realized at one point that the word attack skills were leading them in some odd ways. It was read about a sward for example.

AMT: OK well Wayne Valleau thank you for speaking with me today.

WAYNE VALLEAU: Oh for sure.

AMT: That is Wayne Valleau, retired high school teacher, a high school English teacher. He joined us from Calgary let us know what you think. You can tweet us. We are @thecurrentCBC. Find us on Facebook. Go to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent and click on the Contact link. And stay with us. The news is next and then a single mom who said she had to choose between her child and her career in the armed forces.

SOUNDCLIP

I know at least three different women who have given their children away, so that they could keep. working in the military. And I guess some women can do it but I just couldn't.

AMT: She wants to argue her case to the human rights commission of Canada. Laura Nash story is coming up. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.

[Music: Theme]

Back To Top »

'I dedicated my life to the Forces and got nowhere': Single mom told to choose between son and career

Guest: Murray Brewster

AMT: Hello. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.

[Music: Theme]

AMT: Still to come the slow shift out of reverse. Women aren't allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia but a few activists are doing it anyway and paying the price.

SOUNDCLIP

Conservatives have launched their own Internet campaign with a Facebook site calling on people to beat up any woman driving.

AMT: For the latest in our project The Disrupters I will speak to Manal Al-Sharif. She is one of the founders of The Women to Drive movement. But first a single parent and a member of the Canadian Armed Forces is told to choose between her child and serving her country.

SOUNDCLIP

The continued operational excellence of our military also requires that it reflect Canada in all its diversity. That it be inclusive and that it provide at all times in all ranks a respectful environment for women.

AMT: Last week Canada's defense minister announced the government's vision for the military for the next 20 years. And Harjit Sajjan who you heard there, stressed that women are a key part of that vision. Recruiting women is a priority for the Canadian forces the government says its goal is to have a workforce which is 25 percent female in the forces by 2026. But Canada's military can be a difficult place for women. The forces have struggled with sexual and emotional harassment of women in the ranks. And now one mother says the Navy told her she had to choose between caring for her child or serving at sea. Laura Nash is a sub lieutenant in the Canadian Navy. She's a single mother with a six year old child. And balancing work and parenting can be a fine balance at the best of times. But the Navy made a six week training deployment mandatory and Lauren Nash had a problem. No one to care for her child and no choice from the Navy. She's now taking her case to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Murray Brewster is the CBC's parliamentary defense reporter based in Ottawa. He spoke with Laura Nash and he brings us her story. Hi Murray.

MURRAY BREWSTER: Hello Anna Maria.

AMT: Tell us more about Lauren Nash.

MURRAY BREWSTER: Well she's a 33 year old woman who grew up in southern Ontario. She was a champion kayaker who represented Canada in many major world competitions and she joined the Navy in 2010 and was training to be a maritime surface and subsurface officer. That's essentially a ship's navigator and warfare officer. She was based in Esquimalt, B.C. but things became difficult for her in 2012 after her relationship with her child's father broke up.

AMT: And why did it become difficult?

MURRAY BREWSTER: Well her job requires extended deployments at sea and officers also have to stand duty watches even when their warships are in port. Now she was a single mom and was flying her son back and forth between Esquimalt and Toronto, because her parents are in the Bellville area and they were able to care for him. And it was an expensive process and she told me that it was difficult for her and her son. And it all came to a head when she was taking a course in 2013 that would have led to her advancement.

AMT: What happened there?

MURRAY BREWSTER: Well she was at the point where she was looking for a transfer to another branch of the military because of her circumstance but she was required to finish the course. And when she was called in by the head of the department this is what happened.

SOUNDCLIP

She told me effective immediately you're receiving your training. You have too many family matters to deal with. And she removed me from the course she denied me my promotion.

MURRAY BREWSTER: And it got worse. Later on Laura Nash says that same officer presented her with an ultimatum.

SOUNDCLIP

Her and another female officer brought me into their office alone and they told me that if I didn't get rid of my child, by January of 2014 that I would be fired. And so I tried to make the decision of whether I was going to give away my child on a permanent basis so that I could keep working, or if I was going to get fired because I was going to keep my child. I couldn't go to sea I didn't have a husband that was living with me or that was helping with child care, and I didn't make enough money to hire a full time nanny or anything like that. I was just completely unsupported. And the decision broke me. I couldn't make the decision. It was a catch 22. I didn't want to live without my child, but I needed a means of supporting him. And so I didn't want to lose my job.

AMT: Get rid of my child? These were senior officers telling her this, and their women?

MURRAY BREWSTER: Yes, yes. I know it's shocking. But in some respects it's not surprising because some of the experience I've had dealing with military over 20 years, is that women in the military hold other women to higher standards sometimes in impossibly higher standards.

AMT: So what did Laura Nash do after she was given that ultimatum?

MURRAY BREWSTER: Well, she was in limbo for months and she was asked if she could get a transfer again to another trade. Now there are dozens of other jobs in the military that could have worked out for. But she was a single mom. And Laura says that things didn't work out very well.

SOUNDCLIP

I had a base personnel selection officer who's supposed to be in charge of moving people into new trades, can't do another trade for whatever reason. And when I told her that I'm a single parent and I cannot do this trade I can't sail off on this schedule. She rolls her eyes and she said everyone has things to deal with when they deploy. I had to find a place to store my car and I had to change my cell phone plan. And so, that's the way that some of the women in the military look at children. They're just another piece of administration to deal with. They're not humans. They're not something that needs to be taken care of and raised and loved, and somethings to be with their moms. I know at least three different women who have given their children away, so that they could keep working in the military. And I guess some women can do it but I just couldn't.

AMT: And she talks about giving her children away where did they expect her son to go?

MURRAY BREWSTER: I have no idea. That is so unclear. And Laura says that her mother was sick and her dad was working full time and it would just be too difficult to send him to her parents and the father's child wasn't in the pictures so she really had nowhere to send her son.

AMT: So it sounds as if she's put in an impossible situation.

MURRAY BREWSTER: Well was and it really took a toll on her.

SOUNDCLIP

LAURA NASH: It's been an awful seven years. It's been awful.

MURRAY BREWSTER: So take us into that room. You essentially had two female superior officers telling you give up your child you, or choose between your career and child. What's going through your mind?

LAURA NASH: At the time I had tried to place my duty to the country above my son [sobs]. And I couldn't do it. Sorry [unintelligible].

MURRAY BREWSTER: It’s okay.

MURRAY BREWSTER: Now Laura told me that she pleaded with them not to send her to see. And you know you have to understand that had she refused an order to go to sea she would have been put in jail and that would show up on her service record. She ended up though on a medical category.

AMT: You can hear how hard it was on her.

MURRAY BREWSTER: Yes.

AMT: In that little exchange with you right there.

MURRAY BREWSTER: Yes. Yes. I mean, being placed in a temporary medical category was pretty much the only alternative and it caused her a lot of anxiety and she told me she started to fear for the future. Eventually Laura fell into a depression and even at one point she admits she contemplated suicide.

AMT: Did going on medical leave help her situation? Did it improve anything?

MURRAY BREWSTER: Well unfortunately not. There are unspoken consequences in the military for admitting that you have mental health issues. And that's despite the fact that over the years the leadership of the Canadian Forces has encouraged people to come forward. Laura Nash essentially believes that she was blacklisted. She became, in her words, discounted goods labeled as someone with a medical disability and she wasn't perceived as being helpful or useful. Laura claims that when she asked for mental health help there was none in 2014 when she was suicidal. She said she went to the base for help and she says she was just sent away and “I don't think anyone there cared if I lived or died’.

AMT: So it just kept spiraling Murray. Now she's asking the Canadian Human Rights Commission to look into her case. Where does that stand?

MURRAY BREWSTER: Yes well I mean Laura's lawyer brought the complaint forward and it is a discrimination claim, arguing that she was discriminated against on the basis of sex and disability. And they're still waiting to hear from the Commission for a formal response. But it is unlikely according to a pulmonary finding that came into their possession just a couple of days ago, it's unlikely that it's going to proceed. And we interviewed Laura's lawyer Natalie McDonald about this.

SOUNDCLIP

Laura has suffered a traumatic experience as a result of this. She wanted to be in the military, she wanted to serve her country and she did everything she could in order to do that. And the manner in which she's been treated is simply deplorable as a result. No one should ever ask a mother to give up their son in order to become advanced at any organization. That is just something that is despicable and should be punished.

MURRAY BREWSTER: Now Laura told me that she brought for the human rights case because she wanted to make sure that no other woman in the Canadian military is ever put into the same position as she was.

AMT: And there are so many levels of issues that she has with them here. At the same time, isn't it expected that certain jobs in the Armed Forces mean you must be deployed and that parents, all parents need to anticipate that?

MURRAY BREWSTER: Yes. Yes indeed. But I'm going to give you her lawyer Natalie McDonald to answer that question because she really doesn't mince the words.

SOUNDCLIP

I say that's Ridiculous. That's absolutely unfair. It's discriminatory. And I would hope by 2017 that kind of attitude would be banished from society quite frankly. A woman is able to choose whatever career she wants to. But when she has family status issues, which is exactly what Laura Nash was experiencing, on the basis of her sex the employer and even the Canadian Armed Forces needs to accommodate that request for accommodation.

MURRAY BREWSTER: Now there are two issues here. The first is that the military's duty to accommodate is just like any other employer. But the second issue is about respect and it relates to the Canadian Armed Forces policy called Operation Honor. Now that was put in place in August of 2014 with the goal of stamping out sexual misconduct in the military and that has gotten most of the media attention. But largely this is about treating people within the military with dignity and respect.

AMT: So what does the Department of National Defense have to say about Laura's story and her specific situation?

MURRAY BREWSTER: A spokesperson would not comment directly on the case because of privacy issues. Last week though I interviewed General Jonathan Vance and asked him about issues related to making work life in the military more flexible.

AMT: General Jonathan Vance is of course the chief of defense staff of the Canadian Forces?

MURRAY BREWSTER: Yeah that's right. I talked to him because those are some of the broader issues that are at stake as you know the military is trying to recruit more women and change the image of the forces. Now there is a very slick PR campaign underway. Military leaders are saying all of the right things. But Laura Nash’s story illustrates that the reality for women can still be tried. And General Jonathan Vance he wouldn't comment specifically on this case but he was addressing circumstances like this when he spoke about the government's new defense policy last week. Here's General Jonathan Vance and what he had to say about how the military is trying to turn things around.

SOUNDCLIP

I want people to join the Air Force. It's a great place to work. It's a great place to meet those high ideals of this country. I want to encourage the youth of Canada to look at the armed forces as a high quality institution an institution of excellence that will treat them well treat their families well over time, and where you can serve your country in a way that nobody else can. I need want 25 percent of women in the Forces. Not because it's the right thing to do and it is but it's also how we're going to be more combat effective in the future. And there's no question about it that the narrative around the military has been challenging over the past few years. And it's not that it's not deserved. I recognize that it's deserved. I need to change the reasons why that narrative exists. I'm working on that as hard as I can.

AMT: But clearly not enough has been done to keep someone like Lauren Nash around.

MURRAY BREWSTER: Well General Jones Vance told me that it is often in the military's interest to retain everyone they train because it's an investment. And I also asked the General about the armed forces duty to accommodate people. He said there needs to be a balance, on the one hand making room for people who can't deploy and those who have different opportunities. But on the other hand there's making sure that they aren't recruiting an unrestricted number of people who can't be deployed.

AMT: So where does that leave Lauren Nash?

MURRAY BREWSTER: Essentially she's being released at the end of July and she doesn't know where she's going to go or how she's going to support her son after that. I asked Laura if she was still interested in serving in the Canadian Forces.

SOUNDCLIP

That's a tough question because I love our country. I've represented it before as an athlete. I think that our military comes from such an honorable institution. We have such a great reputation from World War One and World War Two. It has so much potential to give so many people wonderful careers and to do good around the planet. And I don't think that we're doing that. I would have liked to stay in but because there's no guarantee that I won't be harassed again, that they don't take harassment very seriously, that people of higher rank can do whatever they want to me without consequence. I don't know the answer to that. But I don't know what else I'm going to do in the future. I don't ..I don't know like I dedicated my life to the forces and got nowhere.

AMT: Hmm. Murray we are coming off of a 10 year war in Afghanistan. And there's talk of peacekeeping. I mean how does the Canadian Forces actually look at the issue of child care for all of its members. Because there are parents where both, you know, both people in the couple are in the military. There are there are other single parents. Have they looked at this at all?

MURRAY BREWSTER: I don't think that they've looked at it in any great detail, because the military has had its hands full in dealing with members who have been either wounded overseas physically or mentally and getting the care for them right. I think that the issue of how to deal with families is something that is going to become much more prevalent over the next couple of years because you're going to see issues that relate to Afghanistan in terms of perhaps broken families and perhaps in terms of children who need help. But we are going to be having more deployments overseas as you noted with peacekeeping and there's a [unintelligible] deployment that has just gotten underway. So it is an area that the military is going to have to study.

AMT: OK well Mary thank you for bringing us the story.

MURRAY BREWSTER: You're welcome.

AMT: Murray Brewster the CBC's parliamentary defense reporter. He joined us from Ottawa. What do you think? Are there things that the armed forces could be doing for parents in the military, for single parents, for others when it comes to child care and schooling so that Canadian Forces troops can be available when they are needed at the drop of a hat? Let us know. You can tweet us we are @thecurrentCBC find us on Facebook go to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent and click on the Contact link.

[Music]

AMT: OK well we are always asking you to tweet us and write to us and that's what you were doing yesterday. Naomi Klein was here to talk about her latest book No is not enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics in Winning the World We Need. She believes that U.S. President Donald Trump's election was not an aberration but the culmination of trends she has been covering over several decades. Naomi Klein is an author and an activist. She says it isn't solely the trends on the right of the political spectrum.

SOUNDCLIP

Well I think there are many paths that lead to trump whatever the ideas that I really want to highlight which is actually a very bipartisan idea is not just about conservatives but it's this worship of wealth, the CEO savior. We can't just blame this on Trump. Trump would have been unelectable were it not for the groundwork laid by Bill Clinton and Bill Gates to several liberal heroes in the United States.

AMT: Well it didn't take long for the responses to start coming in. Lucas Houser tweeted: “like many Bernie Sanders supporters. I voted for Donald Trump because while Hillary Clinton would have transferred some wealth from the rich to the poor Donald Trump makes it clear what he's for”. Rudy tweeted in response to Naomi Klein's assertion that Donald Trump's policies would make the rich richer: “That's the goal of every U.S. president with it comes the illusion that anyone can strike it rich too dear”. Oh @dear in D.C. tweeted that she agreed with Naomi Klein that the issues go beyond Donald Trump: “We could replace Trump with the U.S. government and this would still be accurate”. That person tweeted Mary Elizabeth Failon posted on Facebook: “Anyone with the ability to think critically already knows this”. Torkel Campbell tweeted: “Naomi Klein's interview is a good reminder of what the real enemy is capitalism”. @GlennHarnish tweeted:” I can't help but feel I'm listening to a socialist just hating on capitalists. Got anything fair and balanced?”. Bernadette McKeown from Half Moon BBay B.C. responded to Naomi Klein's discussion of massive street protests in Argentina at the time of its 2001 economic crisis saying: “I feel it's only a matter of time before we see this kind of protest in the streets again as people become increasingly disenchanted with the broken promises of politicians. Yes even here in Canada “. David Sereda tweeted that he like Naomi Klein's emphasis on the left's need for a positive message saying: “Yes we have a choice to be good citizens of the planet. Thanks for your insights”. David Naysmith of Ottawa wrote to say that he doesn't believe Naomi Klein's vision for a progressive future the Leap manifesto will have a wide impact and he goes on to write: “While the intent is good. There are disconnects and the practical aspects as well as the messaging that will keep its uptake very limited. Such a plan would have to gain traction with individuals households communities municipalities provinces and the federal government. It would have to be marketed to a mainstream audience versus the dedicated on the left of the political spectrum to actually make a difference to the world. There are already lots of echo chambers out there on the left the right and everything in between. The key is getting the other Gallion guy to drop their guard and hear what's actually being said in order to do that we need to break apart the tribalism that is shackling our society our brightest moments in history have been when we abandoned our tribal instincts, moderated our discourse and worked collectively for a more positive future”. And that a longer letter came from David Naysmith in Ottawa. If you have thoughts on this or other stories on the current please let us know. Send us an email by going to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent click on the Contact link. Tweet us. We are @thecurrentCBC.

[Music]

AMT: Later this week I'll be speaking with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. His IQ is out of the world but his ability to clearly explain complicated scientific concepts have won him awards and fans across the globe. Here he is explaining to Stephen Colbert why Pluto should not be a planet.

SOUNDCLIP

VOICE 1: At the American Museum of Natural History. When we redid our exhibits we said Pluto belongs here not there with its other icy brethren in the outer solar.

VOICE 2: OK you took a lot of heat for that.

VOICE 1: Yeah. And you know I was an accessory to that decision, but but

VOICE 2: You amlost said crime you

VOICE 1: No, no.[Audience laughs] People like Mike Brown who discovered the objects in the outer solar system that forced vote. He's guilty. His Twitter handle is called Pluto killer. [Audience laughs]He admits it.

VOICE 2: Who is this Mike Brown you're throwing under the bus right now, under the space bus.

VOICE 1: [Laughs] He put himself under the bus. I'm pointing it out.

VOICE 2: But here's the thing is that now some of your buddies at NASA want to reinstate Pluto as a planet because they want the designation of planet to be closer to people's intuition rather than some arbitrary scientific designation. OK.

VOICE 1: They should just like get over it. [Audience laughs]

VOICE 2: Okay, so why do you think people want to name it, a planet.

VOICE 1: Pluto had it coming from the beginning it was like it was never really... Pluto’s orbit crosses that of another planet. That’s no kind of behavior for a planet. No. [Audience laughs]

VOICE 2: Got to stay in your lay?

Voice 1: Say in your lane.

VOICE 2: Stay in your lane. Our moon has five times the mass of Pluto. So just get over it.

VOICE 2: What! Was our moon this planet?

VOICE 1: No it's a moon. [Audience laughs]

VOICE 2: Allright.

AMR: Neil deGrasse Tyson the new book is called Astrophysics for People in a Hurry. We'll keep him in his lane. We're looking forward to talking to him. He will be on Thursday's edition of The Current. Wait for that.

[Music: Theme]

Every day women across Canada get in their cars they drive themselves to work, to school, wherever. Driving is just something we do here we don't really think about it. Manal Al-Sharif had to give up her job, her home, her son and for a while her freedom after she got behind the wheel of a car in Saudi Arabia. As part of our project The Disrupters we will hear from Manal Al-Sharif. Coming up how she hopes to influence a new generation of activists. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current on CBC Radio on Sirius XM Online at cbc.ca/thecurrent and on your radio app.

Back To Top »

'Symbol for civil disobedience': How a Saudi woman landed in jail for daring to drive

Guest: Manal Al-Sharif

AMT: Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.

SOUNDCLIP

[female voice speaking in Arabic]

Well you're listening to Manal Al-Sharif behind the wheel of a car in 2011. She's talking about the campaign she helped create to pressure Saudi officials to allow Saudi women to drive. And she says in that clip there women can have a Ph.D. but can't drive because of the ignorance here. There's no written law to prevent women from driving but it is strictly forbidden and it's punishable. That video was eventually posted on YouTube and Facebook. Shortly after she was out driving again and that expedition landed Manal Al-Sharif in jail. Her new book details what led to the fateful decision to get behind the wheel and what happened in her life after. Her book is called Daring to Drive. Manal Al-Sharif is with me from New York City. Hello.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Hi. Hi Toronto.

AMT: You can say hi to all of Canada, if you want.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Hi to all of Canada.

AMT: What was that drive like for you? To be behind the wheel on the streets for the first time in Saudi Arabia

MANAL AL-SHARIF: It was something that I didn't even think that would happen. You know growing up you live your whole life. You never see a woman driving. So you never question that. I never even thought that that would start a movement for the woman to drive. It was all driven by the Arab Spring in 2011. Where we see the youth using social media to speak up and to create change, social change. And the fact I found out that there is no law there's no actual law in the country. It's the norm, it's the custom ‘orf’ we call it. That was very empowering. Also having my driver's license from the U.S. So a lot of things led to that moment. It's a big moment. And I remember it was… I learned how to drive at the age of 30. So it's not something that you are familiar with. I was 32 when I that recorded that video. And it was like back to being teenager. That's the time when I was supposed to in Saudi Arabia, not that age really.

AMT: And I was surprised to learn from your book that, as you point out that that it's more custom, there is no actual law on the books that says you can't get behind the wheel.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: No

AMT: But what is life like for women since they are not allowed to drive? Take us through what things like…How does that restrict them?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Imagine you live in a city I visited Canada. I can move around I can walk in the street. It is pedestrian friendly cities in Canada. Imagine that you don't have the Metro, and I use the Metro in Canada. Imagine you don’t have train, in Europe they have trains. No buses, no public transportation. This is first. So the only means of movement for you from a to b is to drive a car, is to have a car and. And the bicycles, too, we cannot ride bicycles inside Arabia although there is a ‘fatwa’ to say I can ride a bicycle with my ‘mehrem’ or my guardian. So imagine that you cannot move. You cannot go do basic things like shopping for grocery, dropping your kids to school, or just simply visiting someone or going to work.

AMT: But what if someone's sick? What happens if you if there's no guardian around to take you to the hospital?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: If you're a woman alone in the house and you call the ambulance there will not help you, without a man without a presence of your guardian or a ‘mehrem’. ‘Mehrem’ is any relative that cannot marry you, is called ‘mehrem’. They would not help. They would not get in the house in an emergency. This is first. Second if you need to go yourself in emergency time say someone is sick and you need to take them to the hospital. If you're a woman you need to find a man, your neighbor. You need to go in the street and maybe shout for someone to help you. Or wait for a taxi.

AMT: And what if you can't do that what happens to the person who's sick?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: My friend. Her father died in front of her eyes because her brothers were in another city and she had to wait for the ambulance and the ambulance didn't know the address. It couldn't get to the house and he died as she said. I would never go back to Saudi unless woman driving.

AMT: But that's how strict it is, not even in an emergency, life and death, can a woman get behind the wheel of a car?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: No. Not under any circumstances.

AMT: But this does fit into the bigger issue of male guardianship in Saudi Arabia, then.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Yes. Which is I call it the source of all evil. In Saudi Arabia, awoman is a minor from the time she is born to the time she is dead, no matter her age. Imagine you give birth to your own guardian. Imagine my own son can be my own guardian. Actually my son's grandmother, her son her only son, is her guardian. So when we travel, he's my ex-husband, when we travel they would ask his permission. Where is your guardian? And she's 67. And her son is her guardian. So that's the guardianship system not only to travel but to do anything. Imagine slavery. I call it slavery. Women are enslaved in Saudi Arabia because they need a permission from a signed legal guardian to do anything in their life. And this is the one that we're fighting. We have a movement called I am my own guardian. Almost 20 year now this movement and did not stop. Most of the leaders of this movement including Maria Al-Eteiby one of the prominent leaders of the movement is in jail today.

AMT: And this is because they just want the basic rights to go out in the street or, to like go do their own thing without a man giving them permission or being next to them.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: No. We want full citizenship. So the movement calls for full citizenship. My government is not considering me a full citizen. Someone who has to be following another citizen to get my citizenship. So without a man without my guardian I cannot be considered or even acknowledged as a full citizen. So this movement is really to annul, is this right word in English?

AMT: To annul the law?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: The Guardianship.

AMT: Yes.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Yes because they are all laws written. The guardianship system they are all laws that are written that needs to be changed, that needs to be annulled. And women need to be recognized as full citizens in their own country.

AMT: So this movement is a year old. I am my own guardian.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Yes. So we've been always calling to end the male guardianships system, but this movement is one. There are a lot of movements going on in Saudi Arabia. But this movement is the one that picked up and stayed for a long time. And it's the one that's really making the headlines and really challenging the system because they use provocative hashtag. And a lot of people were against it like you want to be liberal, you want to have boyfriends and drink. It's not about that. We try to explain to them it's not liberty for us is this, liberty is to live with dignity without the need for a permission. Name and age for women in my country where they are considered adults. We are not adults. There is no age for us. Like when you turn 18 in Canada you're an adult. In Saudi Arabia, there is no age for me that I'm considered adult.

AMT: And so even before the I am My Own Guardian movement began, you were part of the movement that wanted to get behind the wheel of a car in Public.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: It is Women to Drive.

AMT: Yes, and so what was it that made you want to start to do Women to Drive and to take that risk, what became a risk?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: So Women to Drive, I do believe that driving a car could be a mundane thing in the West or in countries, the rest of the world where women can't drive. For us is a symbol of civil disobedience. This is one. And the second thing is really important to empower women. When women are locked in their homes they are dependent on a man to move them. There is nothing will emancipate women like driving a car in Saudi Arabia.

AMT: You drove, and then you drove again. Your brother was in the car the second time, along with your sister in law. What happened to you after those two incidents?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: So the first time I drove when we started the movement, they will say you're bluffing. No one will go out and drive and you will be raped and men wolves will be waiting for you in the street. So the first one we were just trying to give an example that it can be done. So when I drove with Wajeeha, I ask her to take a video and we posted it on YouTube.

AMT: Wajeeeha is your friend, yes?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: So Wajeeha Al-Howayder is one of the first woman's rights activists who called for women driving in Saudi Arabia, and she drove inside the compound where we live, Aramco compound. She posted that video on YouTube but it didn't get that much attention because she did not drive in the city. I made sure to drive in the city where women are not allowed to drive. And posted that video on YouTube. And it did make a difference the first time. But the problem is we waited for the officials and the official didn't issuing a statement. And woman were really keen to know what will happen on the day we called for them to go out and drive which was June 17 which is coming in a week. So the women were very anxious for the officials, will they be sent to jail? will they be prosecuted? So the second time when I drove I passed by a car, by a police car, to see what is the reaction of the officials. And I was released. The problem when it was escalated, when they arrested me for the second time from my home at 2 am. This only happens with terrorists. When you are a terrorist, they arrest you after the sunset time. They came to my house at 2:00 a.m. That's after the sunset time. So this only happens when it's really a national security case.

AMT: And so suddenly you become the equivalent of a national security issue and they take you to prison.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Yes.

AMT: Tell me about the place you end up?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: So it's the woman prison in Dammam. There were 167 women there. Ninety percent of them were none Saudis, were a domestic helpers. To be sent to jail this way you just disappear. You're being treated like a political prisoner. There was no official charges pressed against me. I was just placed in jail.

AMT: And who did you meet in there?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: When I was in jail. As I mentioned most of them, the woman there, they were not sorry. They were domestic helper. That was a huge shock to me. I knew I was innocent. I knew I would leave jail. So I stayed in my ‘abaya’ the whole time. ‘Abaya’ is what we wear on top of our clothes when we leave the house. But when I was there and I saw all these women there. They don't speak Arabic. Most of them didn't know why they were there because when they were in the court everything was said to them in Arabic. They didn't understand what was going on. And some of them they already finished their sentence and they couldn't leave because they didn't have tickets. They didn't have the money to pay for their tickets and their employer wouldn't pay that.

AMT: A ticket to get out, like to get the transportation to leave?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: To leave back to her home country. That was that was devastating to me. I was in deep shock. So when I left jail I started another movement called Faraj. ‘Faraj’ means relief. And I helped a lot of women to leave, even we helped one woman to start a new life. Imagine one month salary for me is her whole year's salary. So I gave up one month's salary to this woman who didn't see her kids for eight years and I said start a new life. You can start a business with this money. So we helped a lot, these women in this movement. But we were stopped by the government.

AMT: Manal Al-Sharif. You didn't start out as an activist.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: No.

AMT: In fact when you were a teenager you were very much in line.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Radical.

AMT: You call yourself radical you actually say radical extremist.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Yes, yes. I don't know what's the difference. Which worse, extreme?

AMT: I don't know you tell me. What were your beliefs at the time?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: So you know I was born my country went backward. And one of the worst thing happened to us growing up was the brainwashing. More than 60 percent of what we studies in school was religious subjects. And it was the ultra-conservative or I don't know how, what's the right word really to describe the interpretation of Islam that was taught to us in schools and taught to us everywhere.

AMT: This was the Wahhabist Islam, is it not?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: It is the Salafi Wahhabi, yes, Islam. And so my generation in the 80s and the 90s we were radicalized. There was also a lot of things happening around the world, whether in uprising in Palestine, whetherconflict between the Israeli and the Palestinians. There was also war Chechnya happening in the 90s. Bosnia-Herzegovina happening, the Rohingya Muslims in Burma being subject to genocide, and of course Afghanistan war. So all these wars were happening. There was a huge speech in the Arab World, in my country especially for jihad, to call for jihad to help our brothers and sisters, the Muslims. And also because there was the uprising of the Shia in Iran the Saudi Arabia government sold itself as we should be the uprising of the Sunni Islam. It is like there was a competition between these two countries because the revolution happened also in 79. There's been so much money.

AMT: OK. And when you talk about the Salafi Wahhabi, this is still the strain of Islam that al Qaeda and ISIS adhere to, is it not?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Yes it is.

AMT: But in your in your world how did your deep choice to be very religious and very orthodox Islamic, How did it how did it manifest itself? What kinds of things were you doing as a teenager and in your 20s?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: It wasn't really a choice so you go to school and you are supposed to cover up top to talk, including your eyes. So it was a mandatory thing for us to cover our face. It wasn't a choice really. It was a mandatory thing to follow these rules. For example, you were thrown at if you are a woman who will leave the house without the permission of the male guardian. They were thrown at, you as a woman, if you talk to men. It wasn't really a choice it was it was forced, it was pushed down our throats that we have to follow these strict rules. Rules so trivial like plucking your eyebrows, if you do that you're banished from God's mercy. And even if you go to a salon you cannot do that because they say no you will be banished from God mercy. So it wasn't really a choice for us.

AMT: You write that you were very afraid that if you didn't follow the rules strictly you might not, you'd end up in hell.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Yes. Yes.

AMT: And at one point you turn your sister in. What was she doing?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Oh[laughs] I found out she talk to ... She was in love with someone and she was talking to him on the phone. And of course this is a huge thing in my society. So it's interesting that my brother and my sister were doing things behind mom and dad back. For example my brother would smuggle his own cassettes. The new like the Western cassettes. Like Mom and Dad would listen to the classical music the old music, but the Western music was thrown at as this like satanic thing. So my brother would smuggle it. So the choice for you when you don't want to follow these rules you have to live a double life. You have to have two lives to be able to do the things you want to do. You don't believe for example, that music is how you listen to music but everyone around you will give you a hard time for listening to music. You cannot even go outside and listen to music in a public place, for example. There are no music schools. Music is banned from the schools. So even if you choose to not follow these rules is so difficult to not follow these rules. Everyone will be behind… like on top of you pushing you to follow it.

AMT: So what did you do to your brother’s music cassettes?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Yes [laughs]. So we were told in the school music ‘Haram’ on and it's the mail for adultery. And we were taught in the school also that if you see sins you have to change it by your hand. Use your hand use action, not words action. And it was very common in Saudi Arabia that radical Muslims, they go and they would burn the cassette shops. I couldn't go and burn a cassette shop so I would I did I burned my brothers cassettes. ?

AMT: What did he do?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: We had the fight. He was fighting when he came back and he couldn't find it and I started burning them so what I would do I would just record something on top of them. I would record the sermon so he would listen instead of listening to his favorite music. It comes out someone shouting at him saying it's ‘haram’ to listen to songs.

AMT: You smile about it now but at the time it was a very big deal.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Yes. Oh my God. Now I just laugh like oh my god how it was so difficult to live in a house with someone who is so radicalized. And it is so sad now to know that there are a lot of people being radicalized been recruited and they're pretty sure they're doing the same thing to their families.

AMT: Despite all of this you end up going to university. What was that education like for women?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Education can be destructive as it can be constructive. So the education that we went through the 12 years in primary middle and high school was really destructive because it did not promote critical thinking. It did not promote raising questions and asking why: “ you just listened to what I tell you. And even if you solve the problem in a way that I did not explain to you don't get the mark”. That's really destructive education. But I went to college in another city which is more liberal city. It is funny that you live in the same country but each city has different culture. It was very constructive. So college education, we studied less religion and it gave more space to study more science. We had labs. And I owe a lot to my education, college. And at the same time when I joined college, is the internet came to Saudi Arabia. Finally you have you can choose the source of information where you read. And where do you learn. And it was very encouraged to have that critical thinking, when I started in college to do research. I think that is the thing that really changed me.

AMR: It's interesting I started talking to you about driving, but we can't talk about your push to drive without looking at your whole life and how growing up in Saudi Arabia affected the way you think as you got older, as you went to school. So tell me more about your life as you go forward. You graduate from university. You get a job at Aramco the Saudi oil company used to be on with the Americans right? So that Aramco, that’s where the..

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Yes.

AMT: How are women treated at Aramco?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: When I was there I was supposed to be happy because I worked in a company with men. And inSaudi Arabia it was in 2002 when I joined them. It was the only company in the whole country that allows women to work with men, just because they inherited that from when it was American company. They couldn't fire all the women that work there. I should feel privileged as also computer science graduate that I found a job because we were 60 girls who graduated two of us only got a job. Two out of sixty girls. But it felt wrong when I was seeing how the men were treated differently than us women. It felt really wrong. I was unhappy. I was supposed to be happy to get a job but I was unhappy because I was homeless at the same time. Because I moved to another city and I had no family there and I could not rent a house. I could not stay in a hotel room because I'm a woman.

AMT: So again the Guardian issues kicks in.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Exactly. And the company had housing for their employees but everyone can live in that housing except Saudi woman even Saudi men can live in that compound. Saudi women couldn't live in the compound until the year 2007.

AMT: So ostensibly you're in one of the most progressive companies in the country. You're working with men.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Yes.

AMT: They don't want their wives to know they're working with you.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Exactly. So those men who've been to the U.S., or studied in Canada or studied in Europe, they still have the same mentality when they go back. They don't want their wives to know there is a woman working with them.

AMT: Why?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: At the same time they don't want to introduce me to their wives. So I never knew their wives names or faces or anything about their wives.

AMT: But why?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: It is the culture. The culture really put so much pressure on you that you need to separate. Your wife is something like personal property.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: You do go back into the country though. What do you see happening in Saudi Arabia with change? Is there change? What are the signals?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Yes. The hope, I always had hope. I never lose hope. And the more I see people speaking up, the more awareness that's happening about the woman's rights and the guardianship system in my country, the more I see change happening. People are changing their mind. People are joining the movement. And things are really moving forward not because the government wants that, because they cannot stop that.

AMT: Do you think you'll ever see a point where women in Saudi Arabia can move as freely as women in Sydney where you are now?

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Yes yes. Women are changing everything that Saudis know. Even men say you learn from women how to get your rights. Women really they know how to shake things now and they know what they want. And I think this is the breaking point. Once the woman the women's rights movement change will happen.

AMT: Manal AL-Sharif thank you for sharing your ideas with us.

MANAL AL-SHARIF: Thank you.

AMT: I was speaking with Saudi activist and author Manal Al-Sharif. She lives in Sydney Australia now. We reached her in New York City. Her new book is called Daring to Drive. That's our program for today's stay with Radio One for q. Actor Nathan Fillion plays roles in dramas, soap operas, even videogames. And he's going to walk home power through his diverse career and tell him what it's like to be the voice of a sterling silver in Disney's car 3. Remember you can take The Current with you to go on your CBC Radio app free from the App Store or Google Play. That's my little plug. We began today with a debate about the Bard of Avon whether he has overstayed his welcome in English classrooms across Canada. Whether you are for or against Shakespeare there is no denying his enduring legacy we will leave you today with Elvis Costello and Miss Macbeth. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti Thanks for listening to The Current.

SOUNDCLIP

[Music]

Miss Macbeth has a frightening face that all the children know.

She must have been something else a long time ago.

You can’t look her in the eye, or else your face will crack.

She talks to statues on the shelf.

Although they never answer back.

Now the chalk on the wall says that somebody

Saves, that somebody`s face has just been washed off the pavement

Into a puzzle where petrol will be poisoned by rain

Miss Macbeth saw her reflection

As confetti bled it`s colors down the drain

And everyday she lives out another love song

It`s a tearful lament of somebody done wrong

Well how can you miss what you`ve never possessed?

Miss Macbeth

Well we all should have known when the children paraded

They portrayed her in their fairy tales, sprinkling deadly Nightshade

And as they tormented her she rose to the bait.

Back To Top »

CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.