This is an article i would like to share with you written by a friend of me called Cato Alexis from United States, featuring Wajiha Al huwaider for this year's International Women's Day.
Wajeha al-Huwaider is a Saudi activist, journalist and co-founder of The Association for the Protection and Defense of Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia. She is a native of the city of Hufuf in eastern Saudi Arabia. She holds an MA in Reading Management from George Washington University. She currently works as an education analyst for Aramco.
Wajeha is another Lioness of the East I admire. This is a feisty woman who likes to do even the littlest things to get under the skin of the Saudi government and religious clerics. She wrote various articles advocating for reform and for the rights of Saudi women as a freelance journalist when in 2003, the Saudi Interior Ministry banned her from writing in the Saudi press. She thumbed her nose at them and continues to publish her works on reformist Arabic websites and has gained international recognition. She is a divorced mother of 2 teenaged boys who she has sent to the U.S. for boarding school so as in her own words: “I send them there because I do not want them to grow up to be typical Saudi men.” (She doesn’t mince words!).
She is adamant in her demands for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world in which women are still not allowed to drive. She stated once: “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, on International Women’s Day she gained worldwide media attention when she posted a YouTube video of herself driving in Saudi Arabia. She petitioned King Abdullah to allow women in the country to drive freely.
Wajeha has performed other acts of defiance and activism as well. In 2006, on the first anniversary of King Abdullah’s accession to the throne, she staged a public protest. She stood on the King Fahad Causeway, the 16-mile causeway that links Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Thousands of people (men!) drive this thoroughfare everyday. Wajeha carried a sign stating “Give Women Their Rights.” marching up and down the public road. She was arrested within half an hour and detained for hours, and the police demanded that she sign a pledge to stop all of her activism in exchange for her release. She was also banned from traveling back to her residence in Bahrain when her passport was confiscated.
The one thing that Wajeha protests against the most is the law of “guardianship” found with Saudi Arabia. A woman, no matter her status, requires a “mehram” “male guardian” to do anything in her life in the eyes of the Saudi government. The divorced mother of two is fiercely against a system she says treats women as 2nd class citizens: "If I wanted to get married, I would have to get the permission of my son," she says.
As a form of protest, Wajeha often tries to cross King Fahad Causeway, where she had staged her one-woman protest. She is turned away by border police every time, because she refuses to carry documentation that state her “male guardian” allows her to travel outside of the country: “I am not a dangerous person, so why do they turn me away? Because I refuse to present a document signed by my male "guardian," giving his permission for me to travel. And why do I do that? I possess such a document, but it is humiliating to have to produce it, and I am tired of being humiliated solely because I am a woman.”
The editor of the reform-minded Aafaq compared Al-Huwaidar to Rosa Parks. And Wajeha has been given several honors and awards for advocacy for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries hold a special place in my heart. I spent several months traveling to some of the Gulf countries and in Egypt and Jordan. I had experiences, good and bad, of what it was like traveling not just as an American, but as a woman traveling on her own. I would do it all over again if I could, with much more zeal and less recklessness. As hard as I tried, months before my travel plans took place, I could not enter Saudi Arabia. I became a woman on a mission and made dozens of phone calls, networked with various people, until I finally spoke over the phone with the delegate in the Saudi Embassy in D.C. who gave out the visas. I was told that I needed “connections” within Saudi Arabia, or a Saudi male citizen to sponsor me. They didn’t care “how I got the visa” just as long as they saw in writing that a Saudi male had sponsored me, and it had to be a relative or a job offer from a company. I was told I could easily get a “transit visa” to Saudi Arabia which is a 3-day visa as you’re traveling through one country to another; the catch: I still needed a “male guardian”.
I went on to stay in several Gulf countries that border Saudi Arabia. I remember being amazed one day in Oman; I was packed in a beat up old Toyota truck with 7 Omani girls as we traveled through the mountains to visit friends of the Omani family I was staying with at the time. No men, no “guardians” present at all, except one of the little brothers who was barely 4 years old and just along for the ride. (Oh, I fell madly in love with that kid!!!). The older sister of the group plowed through waterways and up hills shifting gears with ease, making fun of me later for not knowing how to drive stick.
I started thinking about how a few hundred miles away was a country in which women could not freely drive without fear of reprisal from the government or the menacing Muttawa, religious police. One of the girls was studying nursing in a nearby city, her choice, her decision. In the country next door, an ambitious Saudi girl would need permission to even attend college and even though Saudi women make up almost 60% of college graduates, the employment rate for females is alarmingly high. I have become friends with Saudis from school and from my time traveling and I absolutely love and adore their hospitality, generosity and kindness. One of my closest friends from Riyadh is insistent that I continue to try to visit regardless. His own father tried to find a way to get a visa for me to visit, but not having the “wasta” (Arabic: “connections”) he wasn’t ever able to obtain one. Why? I needed a male relative to take me, or else I needed to have a male sponsor of a business that hired me.
In 1991, several dozen Saudi women staged a protest by driving around Riyadh in vehicles before they were arrested and faced continued harassment upon release. It was the start of the first Gulf War and Saudi Arabia allowed American troops in the country and American servicewomen were driving up and down Saudi roads in military vehicles freely; this irked the Saudi women to stage a protest, demanding their right to do the same.
Ultimately in the end, it’s not just the right to drive that Saudi women face, it’s the right to be treated as an equal citizen by the Saudi government and monarchy. The Saudi women have an uphill battle, but the determination and tenacity of women like Wajeha al-Huwaider is an inspiring story to be told.
I posted several links to blogs that belong to Saudi women and foreign women, working, going to school or married to Saudis, and what their daily lives are like. There are also plenty of Saudi men and male bloggers who also advocate for women’s rights and reform in Saudi Arabia as well, which I have posted.
One of the blogs is by an older American woman, married to a Saudi for over 30 years, and just a few years ago moved to Saudi Arabia with her husband and young son. She blogs about her life and trying to adjust to the culture. Her unabashed honesty and insightful posts are wonderful to read.
Another is by a former American diplomat who married a Saudi diplomat. Recently widowed, she blogs about Saudi Arabia and its politics and culture. It contains very insightful articles by a very intelligent woman.
Another is by a young Saudi woman who currently studies in Canada and writes about her views of life in Saudi Arabia and life in a western country. Beautiful and thoughtful writing from a beautiful woman.
Another is by a male Saudi who writes frequently about reform and human rights for people in Saudi Arabia.
To only see Saudi Arabia as “oil and sand”, “Extremism” and/or “Osama bin Laden” is to ignore the complexity of its people and its enriched culture and history.
I still wish to visit Saudi Arabia one day to meet Wajeha al-Huwaider and many of the other brave Saudi women who perform large and small acts of courage to defy the systematic discrimination of females, minorities, and foreigners within Saudi Arabia. I hope to see the beacon of light grow brighter and more women like Wajeha al-Huwaider continue to fight until they are treated as equals. Hence, why Wajeha al-Huwaider is a favorite of mine!