How the Arab Spring Influenced the Women2Drive Campaign in Saudi Arabia

Wajeha al-Huwaider spearheaded and co-founded several campaigns and organizations to try and bring equal rights for women in Saudi Arabia. In 2008, she was filmed driving a car and...

Wajeha al-Huwaider spearheaded and co-founded several campaigns and organizations to try and bring equal rights for women in Saudi Arabia. In 2008, she was filmed driving a car and explaining the need for women to be able to obtain their licenses and drive. She also speaks out about child marriage and the guardianship laws. These laws allow men to marry girls as young as nine years old and women are not allowed to make simply life choices for themselves without permission from a male guardian. The 2011 Arab Spring protests inspired activists, like Wajeha al-Huwaider to put pressure on the Saudi government to make political, social, and economic reforms. Huwaider and Manal al-Shariff founded the Women2Drive campaign that has garnered much support. She has also advocated for a “Saudi Spring”. Former King Abdullah allowed women to vote and run for municipal office for the first time. He appointed 30 women to the Shura council and appointed women to serve as store clerks. The problem of women’s right to drive still remains an unresolved issue, even after the Women2Drive campaign caused a stir and put the conversation back on the table.
The campaign ultimately failed to result in driving rights for women in Saudi Arabia for various reasons. The Saudi government blocked and shut down the movement online and arrested all of the protestors. During an interview after the June 17 campaign, Huwaider describes why a “Saudi Spring” would not be possible at that time, and why her campaign failed. She says that most people aren’t aware of their rights. “There’s no free press, no civil society and no NGO’s or political groups to organize a movement.” (Pollitt). She believes people are “brainwashed” to believe they live in a unique and special society. Many women do not support the Women2Drive campaign and have spoken out against it. Al-Huwaider says, “thanks to the internet, young women and men have a place to express themselves and develop individuality.” Al-Huwaider says that Saudi’s are also very devout to their religion and the government manipulates this to keep women in their place. “Many women accept that. They’re not happy, but they accept it,” al-Huwaider states. (Pollitt) It is hard to determine what the future holds for women in Saudi Arabia, but al-Huwaider is optimistic. She believes that in the future, the younger generation will make a positive difference for this campaign because they are more open-minded than the older generation. This will luckily shape Saudi society in the future.
The New York Times, the Daily Beast, and the Telegraph are three other sources that have explored the Women2Drive campaign and the impacts of the 2011 Arab Spring protests on Saudi Arabia. New York Times writer Neil Macfarquhar has written several articles pertaining to Wajeha al-Huwaider and human rights issues and activists. In his article titled “Saudi Monarch Grants Women Right to Vote,” he explains how the combination of the Arab Spring protests, the voices of the Saudi men and women, and social media allowed for a final decision to be made. “Some women wondered aloud how they would be able to campaign for office when they were not even allowed to drive,” he writes. He also wrote an article titled,”Saudis Arrest Woman Leading Right-to-Drive Campaign.” In this article he mentions al-Shariff and al-Huwaider and how the Saudi government quickly extinguished a “budding protest movement.” Daily Beast writer Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes about the accomplishments that the Arab Spring protests did bring to Saudi Arabia as previously mentioned. In her subtitle she states: “King Abdullah gives Saudi Arabian women the right to vote, another sign that the spirit of reform blowing through the region is making it increasingly hard to defend women’s lack of basic rights—such as the right to drive.” She goes on to write about how women are speaking out more in Arab Spring countries and demanding equal rights. She makes the point that women are the future and they must be treated as leaders in this future. Robert Tait of the Telegraph wrote an article about how King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shura council, which aids in decision making for the government. He explains that this opens doors for more opportunities for women in the future. Others feel discouraged by the decision, as the Shura Council serves an absolute monarchy. Many Saudi’s took to twitter sporting the hashtag: “#The_new_Shura_Council_does_not_represent_me.” It is great that big news sources are writing about women’s rights issues in Saudi Arabia and Wajeha al-Huwaider, because it will help garner more support for the campaigns and the protests. It will hopefully help to bring about the change the people of Saudi Arabia really wish for.

Sources:
Al-Huwaider, Wajeha. “Wajeha Al-Huwaider–Fighting for Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia.” The Washington Post (2009): 2. Web.
Fatani, Rafid. “Social networking and the women who aren’t allowed to drive cars.” SAIS Consult(2011).
Lemmon, Gayle Tzemach. “Arab Spring Benefits Saudi Women.” The Daily Beast (2011).
MacFarquhar, Neil. “Saudi Monarch Grants Women Right to Vote.” The New York Times (2011).
—. “Saudis Arrest Woman Leading Right-to-Drive Campaign.” The New York Times (2011).
Mubarak, Ebithal. How the Arab Spring Affects Saudi Society Neil Conan. 7 June 2011.
Pollitt, Katha. “A Conversation with Saudi Women’s Rights Campaigner Wajeha al-Huwaider.”The Nation (2011).
Tait, Robert. “Saudi King Adbullah appoints women to Shura Council.” The Telegraph (2013).
Young, Jennifer. “Wajeha Al-Huwaider: A Brave Heart!” The Al Waref Institute (2009).
Zoepf, Katherine. “Shopgirls: The art of selling lingerie.” The New Yorker (2013).

Student Author: Hannah Wagner. A Vermont native studying Accounting at Champlain College with a love of hiking, running, nature, cooking, and wine. Champlain College
Faculty Evaluator: Rob Williams Ph.D. Champlain College Faculty Advisor. Champlain College

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