This past weekend in Saudi Arabia, Manal Al Sharif was arrested for posting a video on YouTube which showed her driving a car. Although there is no specific legislation which forbids women from driving, it has become accepted as the societal norm. Police arrested her for violating said norms and justify their actions through the misinterpretation and manipulation of Islamic texts. Her arrest is completely unjust and a violation of her human rights.
Over the course of the week, her video has received over half a million hits on YouTube and been discussed by countless media outlets around the world. Her actions have inspired Saudi women to organize for their right to drive, many of which plan to participate in a national campaign beginning on June 17th in which they will take to the streets and drive. This has also prompted an international response by human rights organizations and governments.
Ultimately, this indicates how social media has the potential to bring about great change around the world. As we have seen with the revolutions in Northern Africa and the Middle East, along with the rallying for women’s health care and worker’s rights in the United States, social media is becoming an increasingly important platform for activism; it is able to bring together diverse groups of people, creates space for individuals to share their stories, and highlights issues that are often left out of mainstream news.
As of now, the Saudi police and government have not taken any measures to improve the status of women regarding their right to drive. However, as Nesrine Malik at The Guardian notes, “The arrest of Sharif certainly appears to have done nothing to dissuade the Women2Drive campaign from going ahead; if anything it seems to have garnered it more publicity. There are reports that the religious police are teaming up with traffic forces to patrol and stymie the campaign. If these are to be believed, then Saudi Arabia is in for a first-of-its-kind confrontation on 17 June.”
For more information on this specific situation, follow #Women2Drive on Twitter!