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Saudi Woman Activist Jailed For Defied Saudi Arabia's Female Driving Ban

Manal Al-Sharif, a women’s rights, who now lives in Sydney, spent nine days behind bars has opened up about the ordeal. She was charged with ‘driving while female’ after she uploaded a YouTube video of herself travelling through the streets of Khobar in May 2011.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that forbids women from driving . But the ban doesn’t stop the woman activists from taking back control over her life.

Speaking to Daily Mail Australia, the now 38-year-old shared her heartbreak of having to live in two worlds after losing custody over her son, now aged 11.

Manal Al-Sharif (pictured), who now lives in Sydney, has opened up about her ordeal

The young mother pictured with her son Aboudi, now aged 11, who she lost custody over

The women’s activist smiling at the cameras as she droves her car in the Gulf Emirate city on October 22, 2013, in solidarity with Saudi women preparing to take to the wheel on October 26, defying the Saudi authorities, to campaign women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia

‘I was jailed because I challenged the ban,’ she said.

‘I lost custody of my son, my job and my home but I just have to accept the consequences otherwise women don’t move forward.

‘I’ve done a lot of things in my life I regret but I didn’t choose to be arrested for driving. I was tired of accepting these awkward rules so I wanted to prove a point.

‘When I was sitting in prison, the only regret I had was not being with my son at the time when he was in hospital.’

More than 20 years Ms Al-Sharif’s stunt followed after the first official protest that saw 47 women rallying behind the wheels to defy the ban on driving.

When the woman wanted to prove that they were competent enough to drive in 1990, they were all arrested.

The inspiring Saudi woman showing off her United Arab Emirates driver’s license in 2012

A very young Manal pictured with her brother Moha when she was growing up in Saudi Arabia

21 years laters when she tried to attempt a similar movement 21 years later, Ms Al-Sharif found herself serving time in prison for nine days in 2011.

‘History repeated itself,’ she said.

‘I just couldn’t believe the charges laid against me. I was charged with “driving while female”. I was put in jail with criminals.

‘I remember the prison guard asking me why I was there. She heard about the movement but she just couldn’t believe they put me in jail for driving.

‘When I was in jail, I started to think that it happened for a reason and it really opened up eyes. The good news is the movement started a dialect.’

The young mother said she was faced with relentless backlash after her YouTube video of herself driving through the streets attracted more than 700,000 views within 24 hour

The doting mother playing with her second son Daniel Hamza, who is turning three this month

The video attarcted more than 700,000 views within 24 hour, she said. After it went viral she started facing relentless backlash.

‘The video was trending inside Saudi Arabia,’ she said.

‘I was getting phone calls, my family was receiving death threats and more girls were being discouraged to go out.
‘Driving a car as a woman, you really stir the whole country. I was called a w**** and people accused me of corrupting Muslims… They called me all kinds of names.

‘People were calling me crazy and saying I should be locked up in a mental hospital.’

She said that despite women are having their driver’s license, they were still not allowed to drive simply because they were ‘legally minors’ in the country.

The young mother now lives in Sydney with her second husband and their toddler son Daniel

‘It doesn’t matter if you’re a highly educated woman, you still need a male guardian to give you permission to do things,’ she explained.

‘The main challenge is women are treated like minors. Once you reach 18, you own your life, no one should own your life. But in Saudi Arabia, [adult] women are still considered as a minor.

‘I had to go to my father to get my passport.’

She explained the Saudi women were depicted as ‘queens’ so they were ‘protected by the kingdom of men’.

‘That’s why we can’t drive because we need male guidance to do anything on our behalf,’ she explained.

‘I come from a very private society where we live in closed windows, high walls and women are covered up. It’s very difficult for girls and women in Saudi Arabia to do anything without the permission from a male guardian.’

Manal Al-Sharif has published her memoir called Daring To Drive (pictured)

She said her 11-year-old son Aboudi (pictured) was the main inspiration behind her book

She even revealed that when she got married to her second husband, she needed to get permission from her father and a ‘special permission from the government’ because she wasn’t allowed to marry a non-Saudi man.
‘Until this day, I still didn’t get the second permission,’ she said.

‘We couldn’t get married in Dubai either because I wasn’t allowed to marry a non-Saudi without permission. We had to go through a civil marriage from a law court in Canada.’

Ms Al-Sharif has recently published her memoir called Daring To Drive, in which she writes: ‘I’m proud of my face. I will not cover it. If it bothers you, don’t look. If you are seduced by merely looking at it, that is your problem. You cannot punish me because you cannot control yourself.’

She has since moved to Sydney to start a new life with her family (pictured with her husband)

Speaking to Daily Mail Australia, Ms Al-Sharif made a heartbreaking admission behind the inspiration to write her book.

‘The first thing that really inspired me to write was when I found out my son was being beaten in school,’ she said.

Ms Al-Sharif found herself in prison for nine days in 2011 after she was caught driving

‘My son was six-years-old when I did the protest in 2011 so he didn’t understand what was going on. When we found out, we moved him to another school.

‘I started writing in Arabic. When I was writing, I was writing about the movement. But my agent said I needed to tell a personal story. It wasn’t an easy decision but I was able to write very intimate details about my life.

Ms Al-Sharif now lives in Australia as a permanent resident with her family – her second husband and youngest son Daniel Hamza, aged two, who has never met his 11-year-old half-brother Aboudi.

‘My life feels normal here,’ she said.

‘You go through the normal daily struggles, not the man made struggles you would in Saudi Arabia.

‘This week, I got my Australian driver’s license. I applied and got it. It was the best $300 I spent. I was so happy. It’s a liberating feeling.

‘I still travel back to see my older son but it’s hard because I want my children to be together.’

Ms Al-Sharif found herself in prison for nine days in 2011 after she was caught driving

The mother-of-two said she wanted to speak out about her story in an effort to raise awareness

She still stands defiant in the battle against Saudi laws preventing women from driving in the country.

Despite her backlash, she and many other women are looking for the law to be abolished.

‘Women are still being treated as slaves in 2017,’ she said.

‘I will never give up. The rain begins with a single drop. I just want to end the longstanding awkward laws imposed

on women in my country.

‘To me, women equality is to be in good dignity, to be herself without the permission from anyone.

‘To have access to education, to have access to jobs and be independent. And Women should not be discriminated against for her gender.’

Photo: Dailymail

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