A ferociously intimate memoir by a devout woman from a modest family in Saudi Arabia who became the unexpected leader of a courageous movement to support women’s right to drive.
Manal al-Sharif grew up in Mecca the second daughter of a taxi driver, born the year fundamentalism took hold. In her adolescence, she was a religious radical, melting her brother’s boy band cassettes in the oven because music was haram: forbidden by Islamic law. But what a difference an education can make. By her twenties she was a computer security engineer, one of few women working in a desert compound that resembled suburban America. That’s when the Saudi kingdom’s contradictions became too much to bear: she was labeled a slut for chatting with male colleagues, her teenage brother chaperoned her on a business trip, and while she kept a car in her garage, she was forbidden from driving down city streets behind the wheel.
Daring to Drive is the fiercely intimate memoir of an accidental activist, a powerfully vivid story of a young Muslim woman who stood up to a kingdom of men—and won. Writing on the cusp of history, Manal offers a rare glimpse into the lives of women in Saudi Arabia today. Her memoir is a remarkable celebration of resilience in the face of tyranny, the extraordinary power of education and female solidarity, and the difficulties, absurdities, and joys of making your voice heard.
Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language; Mild sexual themes
Booklist (May 15, 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 18))
In 2011, Manal Al-Sharif was arrested and jailed for driving a car in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Her imprisonment attracted international attention to the country’s restrictions on women. Manal’s memoir chronicles her evolution from a fiercely religious young woman into a champion of women’s rights and the face of the Women2Drive movement. Though there is no legal statute barring women from driving, Saudi culture enforces strict customs that force women to rely on hired drivers and male relatives to get around. Without reliable transportation, many women are unable to work, run basic errands, or even seek medical attention in emergencies. After her arrest, Manal was slandered in the national press, received death threats, and was denounced by religious leaders. In addition to her driving, Manal’s experiences as a young woman highlight the many other barriers for women, such as the requirement to have a male guardian’s permission for most decisions. Her memoir is an intimate look at life for women growing up in Saudi Arabia and the challenges of seeking major social change.
Kirkus Reviews (April 1, 2017)
Inside the walls of segregation and oppression dictating the lives of Saudi women.Arrested and imprisoned for “driving while female” in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, in 2011, Saudi author and activist al-Sharif, formerly an information security expert at the Aramco oil company, chronicles her long path to feminist activism within a deeply conservative Islamic culture. From forced circumcision at age 8, condoned by her largely uneducated parents, to extreme segregation between the sexes in her poor community of Mecca, including separate entrances, covered windows, high walls, and the necessity for a guardian or close male relative to accompany women anywhere and sign any legal documents, the author found emancipation very gradually, a process she compares to the experience of those involved in the American civil rights movement. Indeed, in Saudi Arabia, the dictates of religious culture, rather than law, were and are iron-clad regarding women; al-Sharif required the permission of her father to pursue everything from education at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah (considered a scandalously “liberal, progressive city”) to her first job at Aramco (the only IT woman employed during her 10 years there) to marriage. The author’s decision to drive emerged from a long frustration with getting around via hired drivers and costly taxis, as all Saudi women were consigned to do: in a kind of perverse logic, al-Sharif had bought a car for her hired driver to use. Yet after a liberating work trip in America, where she got an actual license, she convinced her brother to help her drive and sympathetic women friends to video the great moment behind the wheel, which led to her arrest and harassment by the religious police. Ultimately, al-Sharif’s appalling conclusion is that, in her country, “if you want to race with men, you’d have to do it with your hands and legs cut off.” An intimate and powerful book from what is hopefully only the first of many Saudi voices to speak out.
About the Author
Manal al-Sharif is a women’s rights activist from Saudi Arabia who was imprisoned in 2011 for driving a car. She has been lauded by Foreign Policy, Time, Forbes, and the Oslo Freedom Forum. Daring to Drive is her first book.
Manal al-Sharif TED Talk
Daring to Drive Reading Guide
Around the Web
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Daring to Drive Publisher Page