The Current

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

Manal al-Sharif was one of the first women to drive in Saudi Arabia — a country that strictly forbids women from getting behind the wheel.
Activist and author Manal al-Sharif says Saudi Arabia's driving laws are an extension of how the country view women. (Simon & Schuster Canada)

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When Manal al-Sharif got behind the steering wheel of her car in Saudi Arabia, the activist knew she would be drawing the ire of Saudi Arabia's rulers. But they were not her target audience — the women of Saudi Arabia were.

She uploaded a video of herself driving to encourage more women to do the same. While driving, she laments the fact that women in Saudi Arabia can have PhDs but not be allowed to drive.

According to al-Sharif, driving laws are an extension of how the law in Saudi Arabia views women.

"In Saudi Arabia, a woman is a minor from the time she is born to the time she is dead, no matter her age," she tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

The video of al-Sharif driving on the streets of Saudi Arabia received hundreds of thousands of views in one day on YouTube.

The Saudi government arrested and jailed her for nine days for breaking Saudi Arabia's ban on female drivers back in 2011. 
The Saudi government arrested and jailed Manal al-Sharif for nine days for breaking its ban on female drivers in 2011. (AFP/Getty Images)

Al-Sharif talks with host Anna Maria Tremonti about what sparked her roadside rebellion and explains how it goes much further than just being behind the wheel of a car. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving and al-Sharif speaks to The Current about what it feels like to not be able to drive.

"So imagine that you cannot move. You cannot do basic things like shopping for groceries, dropping your kids to school, or just simply visiting someone or going to work," she explains.

Al-Sharif's new book, Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening, chronicles the motivation behind her campaign and the heavy price she pays for her activism.

"Driving a car, it could be a mundane thing in the West, but for us it is a symbol for civil disobedience."

Listen to their conversation at the top of the web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath and Samira Mohyeddin.