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2013 Winter Issue 3 (February 1, 2013)

Advocate Manal al-Sharif Speaks Out on Social Media in Saudi Arabia

February 1, 2013
By Carly Davidson

“Don’t ask, make noise,” Manal al-Sharif says, referencing the words of the master of nonviolent protest himself, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Manal al-Sharif, the “Rosa Parks of Saudi Arabia” and cofounder of the Women2Drive campaign, has earned a place on Time Magazines list of the World’s 100 Most Influential People for her own brand of civil disobedience.

In 2011, she filmed a video of herself driving a car in Saudi Arabia and then posted it on YouTube, sparking a regional and worldwide debate on the “institutionalized discrimination” against women in the country. After being detained for two weeks, al-Sharif was released on bail and shortly after began her campaign as a women’s rights activist.

Speaking to a group of about fifty students on campus Tuesday, al-Sharif talked about the importance of understanding what is influential in a society in order to enact change.

In Saudi Arabia, that influence is the social media network. About 60% of the Saudi population has access to Internet via smartphones, and the country ranks first in YouTube views. This means that when Manal al-Sharif posted the video of her driving on YouTube, its success was all but guaranteed.

“In the Middle East,” says al-Sharif, “social media is used to run revolutions.” Which is exactly what she has been doing.

Not only has al-Sharif been a leader in promoting equal driving rights in Saudi Arabia, but also she has excelled in a field typically dominated by men – computer security. She is professionally known for her work on information security throughout the Gulf region.

Through both professional means and vocal activism, Manal al-Sharif has achieved such revolutionary status both within Saudi Arabia and around the world that she has inspired artists like M.I.A. to write a song about her right-to-drive movement (“Bad Girls,” 2012).  

The music video features a group of women racing cars in front of stereotypical Arab men singing, “bad girls do it well.” While al-Sharif’s message cannot be contained in a single song, the effectiveness of her movement is indisputable.

Manal al-Sharif is a powerful and inspiring women whose visit to Carleton will not soon be forgotten. As she states on her Facebook page, “The struggle is not about driving a car, the struggle is about being in the driver’s seat of our own destiny.”

A special thanks to the Women’s Awareness House for sponsoring Tuesday’s event.

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