Solidarity with Saudi Women

Posted by CODEPINK Staff

It is no secret that women suffer great repression in Saudi Arabia, but in recent days their plight has captured the attention of the mainstream international media with the arrest of Manal al-Sharif on May 22. The issue of women’s right to drive has been long contested in Saudi Arabia, for while it is not legally prohibited it has been publicly condemned by the country’s religious leaders and this condemnation is enforced by Saudi police. It is one of many social taboos present in Saudi Arabia, where in addition to not being allowed to drive, women cannot vote or run for office and must gain the consent of their male guardian before traveling or receiving medical treatment.

While these injustices have been occurring for decades, women are finally being able to make their voices heard. Like the recent revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the women’s revolution in Saudi Arabia has begun to utilize social media to spread their message. Manal al-Sharif is one of many women working for change in Saudi Arabia, who was arrested and held for 9 days after recording a video of herself driving and then posting it on YouTube. This is one instance of Saudi women using social networking to voice their discontent, groups on facebook such as “Teach me How to Drive so I can Protect Myself” have been emerging to raise awareness and support for the women’s efforts in Saudi Arabia.

While groups like this have gained wide-spread international support, the women in Saudi Arabia face a fierce battle. Soon after pro women driving sites emerged, a group called “The Iqal Campaign” was created by a group of Saudi men that encouraged the beating of women seen driving on June 17th. The group had thousands of supporters, and while it was ultimately shut down the sentiment behind the page remains.

The situation has not improved in Saudi Arabia, for since al-Sharif at least six more women have been arrested for driving. In an effort to bring awareness and support for our sisters in Saudi Arabia, CODEPINK will be present at two road rallies occurring this week, on Wednesday June 15th and on Friday the 17th. Both will be outside of the Saudi Arabian Embassy beginning at noon and we ask all women that are able to bring cars and drive around the embassy. Those without cars, or men wishing to express their support, are also encouraged to come, as we will be rallying outside of the embassy, carrying signs and voicing our discontent with the Saudi government.

While we are speaking out against the government of Saudi Arabia, we also want to express our disappointment in our own government. A supposed model and advocate for democracy and human rights, the Untied States has done very little, at least publicly, to encourage the increased freedoms of women in Saudi Arabia. While the United States Department of State has identified the various human rights violations being committed by the regime, including the lack of rights for women, it continues to ally itself with a corrupt, oppressive government. Cataloging the injustices of the Saudi regime is not enough, the United States needs to put real, public pressure on the Saudi regime for change.

Instead of threatening economic or political consequences, the United States is approving arms deals with the Saudi government. In the fall of 2010 it was announced that the US military was initiating a multibillion-dollar, multiyear arms deal with Saudi Arabia. As the largest contract the US military has landed, it is set to earn the military $60 billion. Instead of providing support to the women who face legal and social discrimination, we are providing weapons to their oppressors.

Something needs to be done, so we are asking for your support in calling for our government to publicly denounce the current Saudi regime’s policy towards women. Check out the link below and help us with this issue by signing our petition and hopefully we will see you outside the Saudi Embassy on Wednesday!

by: Mary Posman

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