On May 19, just a few weeks before the official lifting of the female driving ban in Saudi Arabia, and while preparing to celebrate the end of one of the longest and most stifling bans in the history of the world, the world was shocked to hear of the arrests of some of the most prominent women activists in Saudi Arabia. Seven women in total were detained and interrogated, and three of these women remain in jail, charged with treason.
These three female activists are Aziza Alyousef, Eman Alnafjan, and Loujain Alhathloul –tireless, brave and tenacious campaigners who for years fought against the ban on women driving in the #Women2Drive movement that I co-founded in 2011 with Bahia Almansour. Following their arrest, the Saudi media ran a smear campaign against them, sharing pictures of these women with the word “traitor’’ stamped in red across their faces.
Aziza al-Yousef is a retired university professor and a longtime activist in both the My Right, My Dignity campaign and the ongoing campaign to end male guardianship. In 2016, she attempted to deliver to the Shura Council a 14,700-signature petition against the guardianship law, which was not met with any meaningful response.
Loujain al-Hathloul is a Saudi feminist activist and social media figure. Having actively and publicly challenged the driving ban in 2014, and championed the campaign to abolish male guardianship laws, this was not her first arrest.
Mohammad al-Rabeah is an activist, a writer, and a longtime supporter of women’s rights to drive and to abolish the male guardianship system. He also ran a forum, Tawasul, that hosted intellectuals from all over the world to discuss domestic and regional issues.
Today, we ask you to turn your focus to a different: #Miles4Freedom, which is a call for our sisters around the world to use this website to dedicate any driven miles towards ending male guardianship and releasing these activists from prison. Instead of collecting signatures, we will be collecting miles driven by women from all around the world, including by women in Saudi Arabia. Our first goal is to collect 1,000,000 miles. We will be sending these miles in an open petition to the King of Saudi Arabia and his Crown Prince.
As #IAmMyOwnGuardian continues into its third year, the call to end the male guardianship system in Saudi remains a major goal going forward.
Whilst the lifting of the ban on women driving is significant, it is just one step towards recognizing us – Saudi women – as full citizens in our own country, and in our own right. This is because the problem doesn’t end here. In 2018, Saudi women are still not legally recognized as adults, with the government assigning a male guardian to every one of us. The male guardianship system is the world’s most sexist, restrictive and prohibitive system, with women assigned a male guardian in all aspects of their lives.
Under Saudi laws, you are minor in three cases: if you are under the age of 18, if you have a mental disability or, if you are a woman. Saudi women are considered minors regardless of their age, capabilities, education or marital status. And because of this state, sharia-driven law, women remain subject to the control of their male guardian.
These male guardians can stop an adult woman from leaving her house, living independently, pursuing her education, applying for a job, getting married, obtaining a passport, traveling abroad, applying for education abroad, leaving jail after she has served out her sentence and so much more – the list goes on.
Women who escape their abuser’s house are subject to prosecution for disobedience and returned to their abuser’s custody. If the woman escapes prosecution, she is then subject to another form of state-sponsored abuse, this time overseen by state-run women’s shelters, where she lives under illegal detention, disconnected from the outside world. While living there, she cannot leave the shelter or pursue an education or apply for a job.
All of this without even exploring in depth the countless other human rights violations against women in Saudi Arabia, including the horrific practices of female genital mutilation (FGM) and child-marriage in the absence of laws that criminalize these practices.
Thank you for your support.
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