Manal al-Sharif driving to New Orleans with a rainbow in the distance. (photo credit: Jim Warnock)
“Freedom for me is to live with dignity. Freedom for me is to be myself, without anyone’s permission.” —Manal al-Sharif
It’s with great excitement that Ambush Magazine announces Manal al-Sharif will be driving today in the 20th Annual Gay Easter Parade starting at 4:30 pm in New Orleans’ French Quarter.
Manal is now halfway through her drive across the United States for a project called The Freedom Drive she started with the Human Rights Foundation to raise awareness about gender inequality issues, primarily in her home country of Saudi Arabia.
This will be her first time attending an LGBT festival, which she thought “six to seven years ago that this would be completely out of my comfort zone, but by meeting people in the LGBT community, my views have changed, and I’m super excited to participate openly.”
“As a community that knows what it’s like to fight for equal rights,” Ambush Magazine’s Publisher TJ Acosta says, “we’re thrilled to highlight Manal’s campaign to raise gender inequality awareness and welcome her to participate in the 20th Annual Gay Easter Parade.”
Becoming a symbol for women’s freedom and rights
On May 19, 2011, Manal posted a YouTube video of herself driving in Saudi Arabia, which at the time was the only country in the world where women were not permitted to drive.
As Manal recounts in her memoir Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening, she and her brother were subsequently pulled over, arrested, and interrogated for 5 hours before being released after promising to never drive again in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
However, at 2 am that night, the secret police arrived at her home to arrest her again without a warrant. They took her directly to jail, listing her crime as “driving while female.” She was released nine days later promising to never drive again and to not talk to the press.
Manal’s story quickly went viral on social media and made international news headlines. Unexpectedly for Manal, those nine days in jail turned her into a symbol highlighting women’s struggle for freedom in Saudi Arabia and when she was released, she spoke out saying “I use my face, my voice, and my real name, because I believe that a society will not be free if the women of that society are not free.”
She is not just fighting for a woman’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia, but to end the overarching male guardianship system in Saudi Arabia. The male guardianship system operates by assigning every woman to a male relative. Throughout her life, she is passed from the control of one male to another. The man is often her father, brother, husband, or son.
Manal isn’t alone in the fight. She highlights three other prominent women Aziza al-Yousef, Eman al-Najfan, and Lujain al-Hathloul who were arrested and tortured and faced an unfair trial in May of 2018 immediately before Saudi Arabian authorities lifted the ban on women driving. These women are not alone The Freedom Drive claims “last month, trials began for at least 11 women on charges including activism against the state’s male guardianship law, making contact with foreign journalists, and – in one case – applying for a job at the United Nations.”
About her current awareness campaign
The goals of the “Freedom Drive are to raise awareness about these activists who have been detained and put on trial for advocating peacefully for basic human rights and to abolish Saudi’s male guardianship system that enslaves Saudi women.”
The Freedom Drive plans to take the following route:
- April 10-11: New York, NY
- April 12-13: San Francisco, CA
- April 14-15: Los Angeles, CA
- April 16: Phoenix, AZ
- April 18: Houston, TX
- April 20-21: New Orleans, LA
- April 22: Birmingham, AL
- April 23: Charlotte, NC
- April 24: Richmond, VA
- April 25: Washington, DC
When asked why they chose this route, Jim Warnock Director of Outreach at the Human Rights Foundation responded “Manal compares her struggle for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, to a ‘gender apartheid’ system similar to racial segregation in the American South. Along this drive, she wanted to visit places of significance in the civil rights movement. New Orleans has historical significance in this movement and is culturally one of the most unique places in the world. Also, Manal loves jazz.”
“I have a voice and I want to honor that voice and use it,” Manal shares about her current project, “and I’m going to drive across the country in the United States to get media attention and raise awareness about these women who were tortured and locked up for their struggle for women’s rights, and for all those women who are leaving my country and are applying for asylum.”
Please join us in welcoming Manal al-Sharif and her #IDrive4Freedom companions as she navigates the French Quarter parade route this afternoon in her car! And if you have a set of keys in your pocket, pull them out and give them a jingle as loudly as you can as she drives by to show your support!
If you’re moved by her story, she encourages you to share it on social media. Most importantly, Manal encourages everyone to “help by continuing to live openly and freely and by being inclusive of all communities regardless of race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation.” For more on Manal and her efforts, visit her website at https://www.manal-alsharif.com/.