Title: Daring to Drive:
A Saudi Woman’s Awakening
Author :Manal al-Sharif
Genres: Non Fiction, Memoir, Femanist
My Rating: ★★★★☆
Manal al-Sharif was born in Mecca the year fundamentalism took hold in Saudi Arabia. As a young girl she would burn her brother’s boy band CDs in the oven because music was haram: forbidden by Islamic law. By her twenties she was a computer security engineer. But as she became older, the unequal way in which women are treated became too much to bear: she was branded a slut for talking to male colleagues at work; her school-age brother had to chaperone her on business trips and, while she kept a car in her garage, she was forbidden from driving down Saudi streets. Her personal rebellion began the day she got behind the wheel of a car: an act that ultimately led to her arrest and imprisonment. Manal’s Women2Drive campaign inspired other women to take action. Manal has been lauded by the Oslo Freedom Forum, described by Time Magazine as one of the most 100 most influential people in the world, and she was awarded the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent.
This book is a very brave account of a life constrained by the laws of one of the richest countries in the world, but one where women have virtually no rights. It is predominantly a memoir sharing the life of an ordinary Saudi woman who is trying to make things better for her fellow women in a country where anybody without a y chromosome is denied the freedoms that western women take for granted
As a woman living in the UK I still find it amazing that basic rights of being able to open a bank account or rent a flat are withheld from my contemporaries in Saudi Arabia without the permission of her father or husband which leads them to be very vulnerable to abuse, and no surprise domestic violence is very common and only made illegal in 2013.
The history chapter of this book was fairly dull but a short and necessary introduction to the grand mosque in Mecca seizure in 1979 by Juhayman and the extremest Salafi ideology took hold in the Saudi kingdom in the years following.
One of the things that I found so interesting is that many of the rules that exist in Saudi Arabia such as driving whilst female, are not rules that actually exist written down anywhere but are custom. Custom is enforced by the religious police who’s job it is to ensure that the religious laws and traditions are upheld. This consists of arresting people who do not dress or behave in what they consider the proper manner. And at the time of writing they where all powerful but we are told that they have had their powers contained a little since.
There is a particularly harrowing chapter detailing the circumcision preformed on Manal as a child. I always thought that this horrifying practice was an African phenomena but no, it exists in the Arab world too, but I think its practice is diminishing now, thank goodness.
I think the fact that Manal had family in Egypt and visited them frequently gave her insight into another way of life. Egypt although Muslim is far less conservative and woman are allowed to drive and have other basic rights that are disallowed the women in Saudi. Manual learned to drive during the year that she was working in America for her Saudi employer whilst she was there she took a driving test and obtained an internationally accepted driving license.
If you are interested she has also done a TED talk, see below.
This is an important book both from a feminist and a world perspective and I think every woman should read it.
Buy this book on Wordery
Since writing this book Manal al-Sharif has been forced to leave Saudi Arabia. She quit her job as she was denied permission to fly to accept the the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent in Norway. She has no access to her first son as her ex husband will not let him leave the country. She has since remarried and is living in America with her husband and their son. She tweets at @manal_alsharif