Introducing Sarah Cheverton, guest blogger and contributor to Women’s Views on News
It’s a great honour and a real privilege to be invited to feature here on WWM, a site in which I frequently finding myself losing many hours whenever I visit! Spaces that celebrate the contributions of women are vital to the ongoing success of the many international campaigns for women’s rights and for those of us committed to creating a world based on concepts of freedom and social justice for all. In this struggle, I believe that the personal freedom for women to express themselves creatively is equally as important as the achievement of broader social, political and economic freedoms. Moreover, it is often from the creative realms of art, design, photography or poetry, for example, that women share the experiences of oppression and their hopes for a fairer tomorrow.
As a writer, I am part of the fight for women’s rights particularly through my writing for Women’s Views on News, a global portal for news about, by and for women. I am delighted to be representing WVoN and women writers more generally here on What Women Make. This week, What Women Make shares an extract from a recent feature of mine on Wajeha Al-Huwaider, the writer, journalist and women’s rights activist who started the Saudi Women2Drive campaign. In the international women’s rights movement, Saudi is often referred to as ‘the world’s largest prison for women’, and not without reason. Women’s freedoms are significantly curtailed, as my article shows, not only in their inability to drive, but also to participate freely in employment or education.
However one thing that over 20 years in the women’s movement has revealed to me is that women often shine the brightest when forced to live in the dark, and the women of Saudi are no exception. I am delighted to have this opportunity to share with you not only some of my writing on one of Saudi’s most inspiring women writers and activists, but also the work of Saudi photographers and artists.
Favorite Saudi Arabian Female Artists
(I asked Sarah to give us her picks of favorite artists and photographers from Saudia Arabia. Here they are:)
self portrait by Saudi photographer Hind Masour Talal
“I find the stiletto heel as powerful a symbol of women’s oppression as others find the burqa”
“The over-sized eyes of the women in Tagreed Al-Bagshi’s paintings and the consistent themes of sadness and yearning for peace inspire and haunt me, in equal measure”
Painter Tagreed Al-Bagshi
Wajeha Al-Huwaider, In the Drivers Seatby Sarah Cheverton
It’s 2011 and I find myself writing a post supporting the right for women to drive in Saudi Arabia.
I write a lot of fiction in my spare time, but seriously, even I couldn’t make this shit up.
Nor would I want to.
My editor sent me a video interview with the inspiring Saudi women’s rights campaigner Wajeha Al-Huwaider.
The interview comes courtesy of the fantastic YouTube campaign, Honk for Saudi Women, which is encouraging men and women drivers from all over the world to post videos of themselves in their cars honking their support for the ban against women driving in Saudi.
Watching the interview, once again I find myself wandering amongst the many misshapen forms of contemporary global misogyny, feeling the familiar desire to twist each ugly little feature into something recognizable as sanity.
The only thing that rescues me from melting into an incoherent puddle of sailor-shaming curses is the calm, gentle and smiling certainty of Al-Huwaider as she smiles out from YouTube at me – silently beaming the message, don’t panic liberal England, we got this.
Al-Huwaider is a writer and journalist, a seasoned women’s rights campaigner, the co-founder of the Society for Defending Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia – which, among other things, campaigns against child marriage - and the winner of the 2004 PEN/NOVIB Free Expression Award. That’s just for starters.
If you don’t know what PEN is, first go and stand in the corner until I tell you to come out – take your laptop with you, I don’t want to lose my audience here.
Second, feel the enlightenment take root as I tell you that they are a society that exists to promote international writing and solidarity amongst writers from all over the world.
No, you can’t come out of the corner yet. Ok, you can, but don’t do it again.
According to her biography on the PEN website, Al Huwaider was “first banned from publishing in 2003″ (please note that ‘first banned‘ from publishing), having been a prolific Saudi journalist writing for the Arabic language daily Al-Watan and the English language daily Arab News.
On International Women’s Day 2008, Al Huwaider was arrested for uploading onto YouTube that video of herself driving, and a few days later, so was her friend and fellow activist, Manal Al Sharif, for the same reason.
And once again, spurred on by the free space that is still a small and well-loved enclave of the internet, an innovative human rights campaign was born, supporting women’s right to basic freedom in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi women, says Al-Huwaider are “treated like children…..they cannot take any decisions on their own.”
Instead, women’s freedoms come only through the involvement of a male guardian who grants permissions for all freedoms exercised, including the right to drive.
Flashback to Stepford anyone?
Without this written permission from a man, Saudi women cannot work, cannot study, cannot marry of their own free will – and they certainly cannot drive. The guardian can be any male, even the woman’s son.
“It’s totally humiliating.”
So with so many freedoms restricted, why have the campaigners chosen to focus on driving?
Simple. The right to drive underpins and I think, symbolizes the freedom of movement of Saudi women.
“Many women in Saudi Arabia don’t work,” Al-Huwaider says and one of the reasons is that they cannot drive themselves.
“If we are not allowed to drive, it affects the whole family, not just women.”
Al-Huwaider has faced many accusations that the driving force (I can’t help it) behind the campaign is coming from outside Saudi, but believes that this is just an opposition tactic – in part fuelled by those wishing to create a secular/Islamic divide.
“It has nothing to do with Islam,” she says of the tradition against women driving, “It’s not against the law…it’s just tradition.”
Despite this, women are frequently arrested for driving without permissions. Although not usually charged, in late July a 35 year old woman was reported to be preparing to face trial for the unforgivable crime of attempting to drive herself to hospital for medical treatment.
Of her critics, she says, “It’s so funny…we’ve been demanding that right [to drive] for more than 20 years…”
“Any woman who believes in women’s rights , especially Saudi women, please support us. We need you.”
Asked whether she will be able to drive freely in Saudi in her lifetime, Al-Huwaider smiles.
“I think so, yes. It’s going to happen soon.”
Insha’allah to that.0 Comments
Growing up in a non-traditional Asian family, I have always loved travel. My mother lived in Hamburg, Germany for 13 years. During that time she backpacked all over Europe, most of the time solo. When she got married, she and my father often went camping together, packing tents sometimes in sub zero weather.
I like traveling alone. That is not to say I haven’t encountered the weird, the strange, and the hilarious. When I went to New York for the first time, my friends couldn’t understand why I would go alone. Their fears ranged from boredom to personal safety.
When I travel alone, I’m able to think clearly. Going to New York alone for the first time, I was able to feel Central Park, take time with paintings at the MET, watch people passing by me more clearly.
Sometimes, when you are with friends, you are so engaged in conversation that them that new sights become a blur, a memory before you even go home. You don’t take the time to look or really see. Because I had three days left and I had already poured over the whole city, I decided to take the Chinatown bus to Boston and Washington D.C. Upon coming back, my mind was filled with anxiety. It was after midnight when I arrived and I guess I thought, coming from a small town, that the streets would be empty with shady people lurking around corners. Myth! When the bus stopped, the passengers unloaded. I was relieved to see the streets bustling. As I begun to walk to the nearest subway, I thought like a child of all the possibilities of things that could go very wrong. Then a voice whispered, “excussseee meeee?” My heart jumped into my throat and I panicked, and okay, I ran. And then I turned around. It was a lost and confused tourist. I shook off my embarrassment and walked back and helped her.
In Japan, I spent some days traveling by myself. In a super market, this lady offered food samples. Tiny crackers inside a cup- that’s Japan for you. Unassumingly, I took the whole tiny cup. She then shook her head furiously, gave me a disapproving frown, and gestured “one only”. Embarrassed, I gave back the tiny cup and took one tiny cracker from the cup. But if you saw the tiny cracker, you would have done the same. In America, the whole cup IS the sample.
My hope is to travel around the world, alone. I would bring two essentials- a journal and a camera. I reevaluate my goals and dreams when I travel and realize what I really care about back home.
American dreams – thoughts from a Thai girl one year after landing in America’s most over the top culture – LA LA Land
What am I doing here? Why did I come here? Do I like America?
These are the questions I’ve been asked over and over the past year since my arrival. My plan to head to America started when I was very young. In Thailand, it’s what brings ‘value’. Parents prefer to send their kids to London or America to study. In Thailand’s materialistic society, people prefer someone who has graduated from an unknown college in London or America than from the most prestigious Bangkok university.
My dad graduated from the University of Miami so he believes in the American education system. He also thought coming to America would help me grow up. He said I was irresponsible. I never had to do anything for myself when I was in Bangkok. Most (well-off) Thai families have maids, gardeners, and drivers, and ours were no different. I guess that’s one of the good things about life in Thailand. You don’t have to be a millionaire to access that lifestyle. He wanted me to go to graduate school but I fought to study fashion so now my ‘fake answer’ to why I came here is, “I came here to study fashion because fashion schools in Bangkok are a joke” but it’s so much more than that and some of the reasons seem lame, almost corny.
My first impression of America has not been so bright. I guess because I landed in L.A. It’s so different from Bangkok. I love a city vibe. I love people. I love seeing the city streets by night – but L.A doesn’t bring me any such joys. The public transportation here is annoying to the max. Where are the taxis? Where are the skytrains? Where is the underground? Why is it is so dirty? The questions never end. However, one thing I like about America is that you can be whatever you are and people will not judge you or put you down.
In Thailand, it’s more close-minded when it comes to self-expression. You can’t be that much different from everybody else; otherwise people will be more than ready to criticize you. Whatever’s ‘in’ is what everybody follows (and i mean EVERYBODY).
But it scares me sometimes when I think about whether I made the right decision. I really don’t know if I did. I do know I didn’t want to look back and say “What If I went to America? What If I took a chance?” At least I did what I wanted to do and followed my heart. I know I will not regret that.
A lot of my friends have asked if I would go back after I graduate. I said YES with no hesitation. I said, I do not like it here. I can’t wait to go back. I can’t wait to party, get drunk, be irresponsible, and be lazy, is what I thought. But now, after one year in this sunny city, there is something that tells me I am going to miss L.A when I go back. And MAY BE someday I will realize L.A is not so bad after all.
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