Wajeha al-Huwaidar – WOMAN of ACTION™

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A Celebration of Women

is inspired to Celebrate the Life of yet one more activist, working for the human dignity of women. it has been stated; Huwaider, arguably the highest-profile women’s rights advocate in Saudi Arabia, famous for saying …
«Saudi women are weak, no matter how high their status,» she wrote in 2006. «The oppression of women and the effacement of their selfhood is a flaw affecting most homes in Saudi Arabia.»


 

 

 

 

WOMAN of ACTION™

 
Wajeha Al Huwaider rose suit
 

Wajeha al-Huwaida

A driving force on the long road towards equality

 
 
 

“If you give a woman a right to move, you give her the right to find a job, to be independent,” the 52-year-old activist says by phone from her home in Saudi Arabia. “I thought it would take us two or three years to be allowed to drive, but my calculations were wrong.”

Wajeha Al-Huwaider has been subjected to harassment since May 2003, when she was first banned from publishing. A prominent Saudi Arabian author and journalist, Al-Huwaider wrote for the Arabic language daily Al-Watan and the English language daily Arab News, but has continued to write online. She launched a series of “video campaigns,” circulated online, to decry practices like child marriage, polygamy, and the nation’s guardianship laws, which prevent women from traveling, studying, marrying or seeking healthcare without male permission.

Wajeha al-HuwaidarOn 20 September 2006, Al-Huwaider was arrested due to organizing a protest on women’s rights. Before she was released, Al-Huwaider was forced to sign a statement agreeing to cease all human rights activism and was also banned from travelling outside Saudi Arabia. The travel ban was lifted on 28 September.

Al-Huwaider supported the appointment of Norah al-Faiz and added that the Saudi government needs to further the Rights of Women.

Al-Huwaider wrote “Saudi women are weak, no matter how high their status, even the ‘pampered‘ ones among them, because they have no law to protect them from attack by anyone. The oppression of women and the effacement of their selfhood is a flaw affecting most homes in Saudi Arabia.”

In 2008, she received international media attention when a video of her driving in Saudi Arabia was posted on YouTube; it is illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia.

A brief period spent in the United States influenced her to become a feminist activist:
“Before that, I knew that I’m a human being. However, in the United States I felt it, because I was treated as one. I learned life means nothing without freedom. Then I decided to become a real women’s rights activist, in order to free women in my country and to make them feel alive.”

The editor of the reform-minded Aafaq compared al-Huwaidar to Rosa Parks.

When Saudi activist Wajeha al-Huwaidar defied a ban on women drivers to get behind the wheel of a car in 2008, she was sure it was only a matter of time before women would be allowed to drive – a right that would, she was convinced, transform their lives.

Al-Huwaidar filmed al-Sharif driving the car as part of the campaign. Al-Sharif was detained and released, and left Saudi Arabia. Wajeha Al-Huwaider is sending a message to all Saudi women about driving in Women’s Day.

Hopes that the Arab Spring might bring more freedom for Saudi Arabia’s women have proved ill-founded. Women are still forbidden to drive. Nor are they allowed to mix freely with men. They require permission from a male guardian to travel, and they must cover up in public.

It makes economic sense

Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince AlWaleed bin Talal, a nephew of King Abdullah, has thrown his support behind allowing Saudi women to drive, saying it makes economic sense. While there is no written legislation banning women from driving, Saudi law requires citizens to use locally issued licenses while in the country. Such licenses are not issued to women, making it effectively illegal for them to drive.

“The Arab Spring was a curse for us,” says al-Huwaidar. “The government became more aggressive, more controlling.” Female activists who had been outspoken before 2011 were cowed as the state started to put pressure on them, she says.

This was an unexpected setback. Generally, since his coronation in 2005, the ageing King Abdullah had positioned himself as a reformer and supporter of women’s rights. He has taken steps that, in a theocratic state such as Saudi, represent a significant shift. For instance, in 2011, women were for the first time allowed to sit on the Shura Council, the consultative assembly of lawmakers appointed by the king, though what real power they have is a matter for debate. The kingdom sent female competitors to the London Olympics last year for the first time. And in 2015 women will be allowed to contest and vote in municipal elections.

In other spheres, notably the home, women remain disenfranchised. “The reality is that if you live in a close-minded family, you will suffer, and nobody will hear you. That’s just your fate,” says al-Huwaidar. “Saudi men control their women. They are in charge of everything in their lives, and the law is with them.”

saudi-women1426-08-cars-As a young woman, al-Huwaidar enjoyed a level of freedom denied to Saudi women today. But after the overthrow of the Shah in Iran by fundamentalists in 1979 and the deadly attack the same year by militant Islamists on the Grand Mosque in Saudi’s holy city of Mecca, the House of Saud embarked on a policy of appeasement towards clerics which gave the latter virtually unchecked control over society. A Saudi Woman Holds Up a Sign Saying, “Cars Want to be Driven by Saudi Women.” Image Credit: Flickr

In the past decade, al-Huwaidar has emerged as perhaps the most outspoken face of women’s rights in Saudi, challenging the guardianship law, domestic violence and child marriage. Yet some Saudi women see her confrontational campaigns as detrimental to their cause, while others resist change altogether.

Al-Huwaidar recalls: “One well-educated woman told me, ‘I don’t want women to drive because that means my husband will see women on the road, and maybe they will start something. You should think of protecting families, not women drivers.’ If we can change women, we can change men.”

Whether al-Huwaidar will be the one to lead that change remains to be seen. Since she filmed Manal al-Sharif, a young Saudi woman, driving a car in 2011, she has come under renewed pressure from the authorities, and has reined in her activism.

But change, she insists, is unstoppable.
“We’re not going to be the country with oil in 10 years. We have to change,” she says.
“It is not a choice.”

 

In February, 2007, reformist Saudi author Wajeha Al-Huwaidar published a satirical poem titled “When” that lamented conditions in the Arab world; now she has written a sequel, which was posted on the Arab liberal website Aafaq on May 13, 2007.

The following are excerpts:

When your neighbor throws trash in your path, and calls you foul names, and urges his sons to accost your sons at school and in the street, and incites the men and women of the neighborhood against you so that they will harass your wife and daughters – and the reason [for all this] is that you are from a minority that doesn’t belong – this is ugly racism that has taken root. And you can be sure that it is not a Western conspiracy that has been hatched against you; this is a product of your own country.

When you feel that whenever you leave your house there are hidden eyes that spy on you, follow your movements, watch you with suspicion and misgiving, and make you return quickly back from where you came – this is part of the culture of fear. And without the least bit of doubt, it is not a Western conspiracy that was hatched against you; this is a product of your own country.

When your young children come home from school and tell you that they learned that day that the ‘others’ are despicable people who do not deserve any respect, acceptance, or appreciation, and that God commanded them to hate [‘the others’] and to fight them, at all times and everywhere – this is an institutionalized plan for disseminating hatred. Don’t worry, this is not a Western conspiracy against you; this is a product of your own country…

When you are banned from many of the opportunities given to others, like studying, working, and the basics of living in dignity, just because you do not make hypocritical displays [of loyalty] to corrupt high officials and do not flatter the clerics who enjoy the favors of the regime – beware not to think that this is a Western conspiracy that has been hatched against you; this is a product of your own country.

When all the years of your life are stolen from you… and your vitality, your mind, and your soul are wrested away, all in the name of religion, customs, traditions… and an outmoded heritage – and you know that this has usurped your right to life – don’t weep and don’t cry, and don’t imagine that this is a Western conspiracy against you; these are actions and behaviors that are a product of your own country.

When everything around you, around the clock, reminds you that you are a worthless human being in the view of the political or religious powers, and that you and the soil on which your shoe treads are equals, for the sole reason of your being the citizen of an Arab land – this is the height of arbitrary [rule]. But know that this is not a Western conspiracy that has been hatched against you; this is a product of your own country…

When the number of those wanting to emigrate is twice that of those who wish to live in the country, and everyone [who can] takes up their belongings and leaves, and there is no place for intellectuals, artists, or even for regular people – you should be very sad, because this is premeditated debasement and deportation. But please don’t think that this is a Western conspiracy that has been hatched against you; this is a product of your own country.

When your diligent university-student daughter informs you that she received a one-week suspension from her studies because she did not fully cover her face when leaving campus – something the country’s laws [consider] disgraceful – whereas in the palaces of high and influential officials there are evenings of debauchery, where whores and harlots are brought in from all over – well, this is ‘mastery of one’s soul’ and ‘breaking [the desires of] one’s soul.’ This is not a Western conspiracy that has been hatched against you; this is a product of your own country…

When everything you hear, see, feel, and perceive tells you that women were created to be a receptacle for you, and that [a woman] is an incubator for your pure offspring, and that you can replace this receptacle whenever you want, and do with her whatever you see fit, and when your friends add a harem of miserable women to their lairs, and think of them as their very private possessions, like hens in a coop or ewes in a pen… don’t be surprised. Know that this is not a Western conspiracy that has been hatched against you; this is a product of your own country.

When you see poverty and hunger gaining ground… and the ruler tells the people to tighten their belts and to not waste electricity and water, claiming that the country has been going through an economic crisis for [several] long decades, and then all of a sudden you hear that the venerable ruler, may God keep him, has bought an island, with all its palaces, in the Indian Ocean, for millions of dollars – this is theft of the country’s resources. But don’t take it hard, please, don’t take it hard. Just believe that this is not a Western conspiracy that has been hatched against you; this is a product of your own country.

When you, an adult in your full senses, have your pen intentionally taken away from you, and are treated as a person not responsible [for their own actions], and you are not allowed to be under your own charge, and everyone becomes your legal guardian, and it is they who determine your political, religious, and national morals – this is abasement of a human…

And this is not a Western conspiracy that has been hatched against you; this is a product of your own country.

“When the political and religious establishment ignites your feelings over things that take place beyond the borders of your country, and urges you to demonstrate your rage… over what is going on here or there, and you hold up signs, and organize marches, and walk in long demonstrations throughout the day and the night, and you forcefully condemn and criticize – and then after the event ends, you feel tired and sluggish, and you go home to your sagging, broken-down house, and there isn’t a slice of bread there to give to your young children – but you don’t have the right to go out and protest, or march, or even to write a two-line petition – this is the worst kind of iniquity. And this is not a Western conspiracy that has been hatched against you; this is a product of your own country…”

saudi women belong to men

“It is sad how Saudis use technology in a way not intended to be used for,” she told The Media Line. “In Saudi Arabia, technology brings more restrictions and misery! They use it to have more control over people’s lives, especially women.”

When women’s rights activist Wajiha Al-Huwaidar flew out of Saudi Arabia last week for a holiday in Italy with her family, she was hoping for a brief respite from what she describes as the ‘gender apartheid kingdom.

She wasn’t so lucky.

saudi cellAs she left, her husband received an automated SMS text message from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informing him that his wife, legally considered his ‘dependant’ under Saudi Arabia’s strict gendered guardianship system, had left the country.

Al-Huwaidar’s husband received the same text, she learned last week, when she had left Saudi Arabia on another recent trip to Germany.

“I am an adult woman that has been earning my own income for over a decade now but according to the Saudi government, I am a dependent until the day I die because of my gender,” Al-Huwaidar said. “I’m not sure how it works, but lately we get to be informed through our mobile phones about our bank accounts, sale ads, jobs, donation campaigns and others. I’m sure it’s a new service that the government is using for different purposes. They don’t state which country the dependent left for, but simply state that they did leave.”

Saudi Arabia’s strict patriarchal guardianship system requires all women to be represented by men — either their husband, father or son — in all public and official spheres of life. Women are not allowed to drive, inherit, divorce or gain custody of children; and cannot enter most public spaces without a male guardian.

“My husband had to fill out a form at the passport control authority to allow me and my children to travel outside the country whenever I like,” Asaad explained. “He has to renew that with each passport every five years. Most women travel this way.”

Wajeha al-Huwaidar PROFILE

Nadya Khalife, the Middle East Women’s Rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the guardianship system presents an enormous barrier to Saudi women’s freedom of movement.

“Guardianship is a really complicated system and has a great effect not only on women’s travel within Saudi Arabia but also to the outside world, prohibiting women’s freedom of movement in a very critical way,” she told The Media Line. “A woman cannot leave the country without the permission of her guardian, who might be her youngest son. The text messages just adds another level of controlling women’s movements. I guess they’re getting more technologically advanced.”

The Saudi government has gone to great efforts recently to improve the image of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the country’s religious police who are tasked with enforcing the guardianship system.

Earlier this year the commission’s national director was fired and the new director, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Humain, announced a series of training programs and a special unit to handle complaints against the religious police.

“The government has promised to change the system and said that women over 40 can travel a bit without a guardian,” Khalife said. “But from what we’ve seen and the complaints we’ve received from women in Saudi, the system is still very much in place. Women still need their guardian’s permission to travel, to study, to work, and even to go to a court to complain about domestic violence. So there’s a bit of a disconnect between the promises that have been made and the reality on the ground.”

Dr. Edit Schlaffer, founder of the advocacy group Women Without Borders, said the Saudi guardianship system is in violation of international law.

wajeha-children_marriage“The guardian system is one of these things that is not justified by the Qu’ran,” she told The Media Line. “No other Muslim country has a system like this. It’s a unique Saudi interpretation of Islam and according to the freedom of movement provisions under the Human Rights Act the guardianship system is totally unacceptable to the international community. But unfortunately, women’s rights are not at the forefront of international humans rights issues.”

Dr. Schlaffer, who recently concluded an extensive study on gender in Saudi Arabia, argued that while there is a growing Saudi movement opposed to the guardianship system, outside pressure will not help.

“There is a growing movement within Saudi Arabia which is supported by women and forward-looking men who oppose the guardianship system,” she said. “But Saudi Arabia is outside the international time zone so change is extremely slow.” by Taboola

“At the same time I feel that interferance from outside is helpful,” she continued. “It creates new blockages. The way forward is to help civil society within Saudi to provide a space for change.”

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The new suffragettes: Wajeha al-Huwaidar – A driving force on the long road towards equality

Ukraine ProtestSemi naked activists from the Ukrainian female rights group Femen protest in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy against a ban on driving cars for women in Kiev, Ukraine, Thursday, June 16, 2011. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)\

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Several Saudi women boldly got behind the wheel Friday, including one who managed a 45-minute trip through the nation’s capital, seeking to ignite a road rebellion against the male-only driving rules in the ultraconservative kingdom.

Activists — inspired in part by the uprisings around the Arab world — have not appealed for mass protests in any specific sites. But they urged Saudi women to begin a mutiny against the driving restrictions that are supported by clerics backing austere interpretations of Islam and enforced by powerful morality squads.

Encouragement poured in via the Internet. “Take the wheel. Foot on the gas,” said one Twitter message on the main site women2Drive. Another urged: “Saudi women, start your engines!”

 
Wajeha on TWITTER#SAUDI ARABIA

 
 
 
 
 
 

A Celebration of Women

welcomes this vision of hope with open arms, looking forward to celebrating gender equality on all lands, in all facets and for all women; remembering our philosophy that the first step is “Equality of Women Among Women“..

 
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Brava Wajeha!

 

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