Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world where women are banned from driving. Many campaigns have been started in hopes of abolishing this archaic rule, and many Saudi women have become everyday heroes due to their own personal efforts to enact change in their country.
In 2014, Loujain al-Hathloul, a prominent female activist in Saudi Arabia, was arrested for driving and held in custody for 73 days. When she was initially detained, al-Hathloul was charged for driving as a woman. Her charge was later changed to inciting public opinion. The government then tried to transfer her to a terrorist court, though, thankfully, the attempts were unsuccessful. The now-27-year-old has been peacefully fighting for the rights of women ever since.
On June 4th, al-Hathloul was arrested again at King Fahd International Airport in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. This time, no formal charges were announced, which leads the world to believe that the Saudi government targeted her because of her activism. She was denied access to a lawyer, as well as permission to contact her family.
“The Saudi Arabian authorities’ continuous harassment of Loujain al-Hathloul is absurd and unjustifiable. It appears she is being targeted once again because of her peaceful work as a human rights defender speaking out for women’s rights, which are consistently trammeled in the kingdom. If so she must be immediately and unconditionally released,” said Samah Hadid, the Director of Campaigns for Amnesty International in the Middle East.
The restrictions that the Saudi Arabian government puts on women pose a constant problem for many women trying to lead productive and happy lives. Along with not being able to drive, there are rules in place that forbid women from partaking in everyday tasks without a male guardian being present. King Salman recently issued an order that allowed women to gain back some independence, but the order did not address many laws that clearly and directly enforce guardianship requirements.
“Just to beg people to drive me around is insulting,” al-Hathloul said in a 2016 interview regarding the struggles she faces due to not being able to drive. “[Having to pay others to drive me around] takes a good 30 to 40 percent of my salary, sometimes, just to take me to the necessary places, like home to work, and work to home.”
“Instead of upholding its promise of a more tolerant Saudi Arabia, the government has again shattered any notion that it is genuinely committed to upholding equality and human rights,” said Hadid.
Amnesty has not gotten back to us with the details concerning al-Hathloul’s arrest. We are still unaware of the exact reason for which she was detained, and we are all waiting for the government to come out with any statement regarding the actions it has taken against al-Hathloul. We do know, however, that she was released earlier this week.
When asked what type of Saudi Arabia al-Hathloul would like to see in the future, she responded, “A Saudi Arabia that respects people’s differences and human rights, and one that actually opens up for more opportunity [for women].”
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