Ahem. I wish I could tell you that this is just some "Onion" type parody, but it is, in fact, true. Yes, Manal Al-Sherif, was detained by the religious police because she got into the driver's seat:
Authorities detained a Saudi woman on Saturday after she launched a campaign against the driving ban for women in the ultraconservative kingdom and posted a video of herself behind the wheel on Facebook and YouTube to encourage others to copy her.
Manal al-Sharif and a group of other women started a Facebook page called "Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself," which urges authorities to lift the driving ban. She went on a test drive in the eastern city of Khobar and later posted a video of the experience.
"This is a volunteer campaign to help the girls of this country" learn to drive, al-Sherif says in the video. "At least for times of emergency, God forbid. What if whoever is driving them gets a heart attack?"
Human rights activist Walid Abou el-Kheir said al-Sherif was detained by the country's religious police, who are charged with ensuring the kingdom's rigid interpretation of Islamic teachings are observed. [snip]
Al-Sherif has a point - at the very least, women should know the basics of driving a car for emergencies, but also because, well, it's assholic for them to be barred from something so many of us take completely for granted. Especially since the only reason they are barred from driving is their gender.
But wait - there is more:
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to ban women - both Saudi and foreign - from driving (emphasis mine). The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.
Women are also barred from voting, except for chamber of commerce elections in two cities in recent years, and no woman can sit on the kingdom's Cabinet. Women also cannot travel without permission from a male guardian and shouldn't mingle with males who are not their husbands or brothers.
Dressed in a headscarf and the all-encompassing black abaya all women must wear in public, al-Sharif said not all Saudi women are "queens" who can afford to hire a driver. She extolled the virtues of driving for women, saying it can save lives, and time, as well as a woman's dignity. Al-Sharif said she learned how to drive at the age of 30 in New Hampshire.
"We want to live as complete citizens, without the humiliation that we are subjected to every day because we are tied to a driver," the Facebook message reads. "We are not here to break the law or demonstrate or challenge the authorities, we are here to claim one of our simplest rights." (Click here to read the rest.)
Well, golly gee - that's just a little demanding, isn't it? Wanting to live as "complete citizens" in their own country? Pushy, pushy, pushy...
All snark aside, isn't it just remarkable that in the 21st century, one of our allies treats women as subhuman based on religious practices? We engage with Saudi Arabia on a regular basis (they have oil, you know). Hell, our president bowed down to their king (!) as if he was one of his subjects. (There is more we are doing for them, too, about which you likely have not heard about in terms of the US crafting a "private security force." My friend, Diamond Tiger, has the story at her blog, Logistics Monster. Check it out.)
And yet, women there do not have the most basic of rights, ones we take for granted every single day. How would we fare if women in this country had to have a driver, or take a taxi, to work, to school to pick up the kids, to go grocery shopping, to do ANYTHING?? Never mind should an emergency arise. I reckon the women in Saudi Arabia are just SOL.
But, hey, they are our allies, religious police notwithstanding. Heaven forfend we expect better from them in their treatment of half the population. Don't want to upset them, after all. That would be politically and culturally insensitive of us. I mean, we're just talking about women, right? Right?
I don't know if the action al-Sharif and the other women there will be successful or not, but I sure hope so. I wouldn't expect a whole lotta help from the US on this - it isn't like we have been adamant that women have more rights there anyway. Oh, we acknowledge there are problems, but when our president bows to their king, I just wouldn't hold my breath if I was them. Would you?