Posted in book review

The Forbidden Drive

Title: Daring to Drive- A Saudi Woman’s Awakening

Author: Manal Al Sharif

Genre: Non-fiction, memoir

Setting: Saudi Arabia

Pages: Hard copy 289

Published: 13th July 2017

My rate on GR: 4/5

Photo credits:

Imagine not driving. Not because you ill but because the law has said so. Now think of been arrested simply cause you drove. Moreover, this disobedience makes you lose your job, land a travel ban and condemnation is your daily dose. Add salt to injury, only females can’t drive. This was the scenario in Saudi Arabia for the longest period until the rain began with a single drop.

Forty seven women had enough of this discriminative rule as they lined up their convoy and drove around the capital city for thirty minutes on 6th November 1990. Defying the ban on driving dared women like Manal-al-Sharif to take up the challenge and continue from where these women had left years later. But the journey to the Women2Drive Campaign had its meanders that cost her heavily.

Born in Mecca on 25th April 1979, Manal was a nonconformist from an early age. She hated covering her face, hair and hated the black hijab.  This would later catch up with her at her first marriage where her ex-husband tried to change her leading to domestic violence later to divorce. She loved the forbidden things like pop music, magazines, novels where she would constantly sneak them whenever she went to Egypt to visit her grandparents. She even wanted a nose piercing. Having been raised in a strict Muslim background, Manal takes a reader through the different practices in Saudi Arabia that made women more backward than ever. For instances: women weren’t given licenses to practice till 2014, till 2012 the country had no domestic violence codes to protect women and children, women would have a male mahram or guardian wherever she stayed, when renting a house, when been admitted to a hospital, when opening an account, when travelling she needed his approval, not boarding the employees bus…..the list goes on. “I truly understood what it meant to be a Saudi woman. It meant being confronted with every possible kind of obstacle and discrimination. It meant being told that if you want to race with men, you would have to do it with your hands and legs cut off.” Her downfall was the circumcision that was forced upon her together with her sister. This she says she has never forgiven her parents.

With a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, she was hired by the world’s wealthiest company Aramco as an information security specialist. Here she was the only woman amongst men. Within Aramco’s compound women driving was a non-issue but outside the gates it was a different world. This prompted Manal on her 32nd birthday in 2011 to start driving. With the know how to drive while working and living in the United States when she landed a one year exchange program from Aramco plus a Massachusetts driver’s license ,she started her campaign. She uploaded a video driving and why it was important for women.

Prison life phases are told and how she met women who were stuck in prison simply because they couldn’t afford plane tickets to their homes (After her release she used her salary buying tickets for the imprisoned women). Furthermore, they were victims of domestic abuse sourced from different parts of the world to work as domestic workers in people’s homes. Manal also explores how her father had her released after he visited the Prince to how she revisited her campaign with the aid of social media awakening. Her release also brought some equality where women were allowed to work in malls and shops as cashiers to standing in municipal elections and participating in the Shoura.

Her activism won her many accolades like the Vaclaz Havel prize for Creative Dissent to receiving a global leadership award from Hillary Clinton. In this array of happiness she met her Brazilian husband who converted to Islam to marry her. She later moved to Dubai after resigning.

Daring to drive brings to life the desires of women fighting for their oppressed rights in a country where conforming to the rules made it impossible. Shared out of anger, injustices and inequalities, Manal’s writing brings to life the customs, practices, religious doctrines and the history of a nation in a well-crafted manner. She gets intimate into her life’s affairs from marriage to divorce, to a second marriage, loss of her mother to cancer and to the constraints of having two sons who barely know each other (her 1st son was denied permission to go to Dubai by her ex-husband plus the law while the 2nd son was denied entry to Saudi Arabia). Despite the fight she also humors one to her childhood fond memories.

The year 2018 the ban on driving was lifted by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. We give credit to the 47 women drivers, Manal plus others who came after her for their efforts in ensuring women were heard and could dare to drive again.