New York Times profiles Saudi defender Manal al-Sharif

June 19, 2017

Manal al-Sharif, an activist for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, in Central Park during a tour for her new memoir. Credit Nathan Bajar for The New York Times

Manal al-Sharif was 14 when she burned her brother’s Back Street Boys cassettes, then her mother’s fashion magazines. She gave up drawing human figures and reading her prized Agatha Christie novels — forbidden, she had learned, under the puritanical strain of Islam sweeping through her native Saudi Arabia at the time. All kinds of things were forbidden for women and girls, she had also learned: no plucking your bushy eyebrows, no parting your hair fashionably to the side, no revealing your face in public. The one thing she could not destroy was a plastic bag of family photographs that her mother had stashed in her bedroom. She found them, years later, after her mother had died. There was a photo of herself, in a red dress for Eid; another of her mother, in a calf-length skirt she had stitched herself; another of her dad, barechested, for the hajj. “I’m so happy she hid them from me,” Ms. al-Sharif said the other day, scrolling through the images she had uploaded on her phone. “I thought we didn’t have any.”

Ms. al-Sharif, 38, has undergone a radical change of heart since those Salafi firebrand days. She is now best known for challenging the laws and mores that keep women down in Saudi Arabia, including what she considers the kingdom’s infantilizing restrictions on the right of women to drive. Her first book, “Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening,” published this week by Simon & Schuster, is a memoir of her political coming of age. It is equally a portrait of tumult and tyranny in Saudi Arabia over the last four decades — and the kingdom’s vexing relationship with the United States……..

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…………..She lives in Australia now, with her husband, a Brazilian, and their 3-year-old son. She has applied for the Saudi government to recognize her second marriage and has yet to receive it. Exile is frustrating. “When you’re there you don’t just talk. You take action,” she said. “I feel little bit helpless now, being outside.”

And then there’s her firstborn son. He lives in Saudi Arabia, with his father. Ms. al-Sharif visits as often as she can. He asks her all kinds of questions about all kinds of things, like whether to talk to a girl.

“I say: ‘Abdalla, you’re a very intelligent boy. I’ll give you two answers. An answer that I believe in. And an answer that’ll keep you away from trouble,’” she said.

He is now 12, and she hopes he will one day read the book and understand her choices. “It tells my whole story.”

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/12/13/five-women-human-rights-defenders-from-the-middle-east/

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