Saudi activist Manal Al Sharif, who now lives in Dubai, flashes the sign for victory in solidarity with Saudi women campaigning for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia (Photo Credit: Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images).
President Barack Obama has an opportunity this month to lead from behind on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia – behind, that is, a woman driver.
The president is visiting the repressive Gulf kingdom this month. In a letter delivered to the White House, Amnesty International is calling on him to take a stand on women’s rights by meeting with the female leaders of a campaign to end the ban against women driving. We are also calling on him to have a woman Secret Service driver himself during his visit.
Eman Al Nafjan is a female blogger from Saudi Arabia who has been campaigning against the driving ban. She was arrested by police earlier this month as she filmed a female driver breaking the ban. Get involved with the Women Driving Campaign on their official site, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
If there was one word to describe what it is like to be a Saudi woman, it would be the word patronizing. No matter how long you live, you remain a minor in the eyes of the government.
Female citizens are assigned a legal male guardian from her immediate relatives. This male guardian can legally marry her off as a child to a man decades her senior. He can also legally and easily ban her from education, work and marriage. He has to pre-approve any international travel officially. Since basic education is free and college education comes with a stipend paid by the government to all public college students, most male guardians prefer to send their daughters to school. Yet in those cases where the male guardian chooses to imprison his female ward at home, the legal system makes it almost impossible for her to be able to get away.
Even though most of the world has turned its back on the death penalty, some countries continue to impose capital punishment for acts like having consensual sexual relations outside marriage, opposing the government, offending religion and even drinking alcohol.
This is despite international law barring states from handing out death sentences for any of these crimes.
Here’s a list of some “crimes” that, in some parts of the world, can get you killed.
Iran’s Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani was sentenced to death by stoning for adultery (Photo Credit: Etienne Laurent/AFP/Getty Images).
1. Consensual Sexual Relations Outside Marriage
In Sudan, two women, Intisar Sharif Abdallah and Layla Ibrahim Issa Jumul, were sentenced to death by stoning on charges of “adultery while married” in separate cases in May and July 2012. In both cases, the women were sentenced after unfair trials involving forced “confessions.” The sentences were subsequently overturned on appeal, and both women were released.
In Iran at least 10 individuals, mainly women, remain on death row having been sentenced to stoning for the crime of “adultery while married.”
Newly appointed U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry arrives in the UK at Stansted Airport on February 24, 2013 in Stansted, England. Kerry is embarking on his first foreign trip as Secretary of State with stops planned in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar before returning to Washington on March 6th. (Photo by Warrick Page/Getty Images)
While you continue your important work on Syria, however, I hope that you can spare some time for the on-going human rights violations elsewhere in the Middle East. Sadly, many of these violations are undertaken by America’s allies in the region, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain.
Saudi Arabia is executing nearly two people per week this year: We say NO MORE!
A spree of executions that has sent 10 prisoners to their deaths since the beginning of the year in Saudi Arabia must be halted, Amnesty International said earlier this week.
The beheadings included Abdullah Fandi al-Shammari, who had originally been convicted of manslaughter, but was tried again on the charge of murder in proceedings that did not meet international fair trial standards, as well as Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan foreign domestic worker.
The passport of Sri Lankan Rizana Nafeek. She was a foreign domestic worker in Saudi Arabia. And at the age of 17, she was arrested on charges of murdering an infant in her care.
Saudi Arabia has a long, infamous history of denying legal rights to foreign domestic workers, but it’s still outrageous that two recent cases indicate that these workers– whom are predominantly women — can’t even count on basic internationally accepted protections for juveniles and the mentally ill. This month, one Sri Lanka woman paid for this failure with her life. And another’s life is at risk.
The beheading of Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan foreign domestic worker, on Jan. 12 underscored the lack of legal protections for foreign workers in Saudi Arabia. The execution came despite an international campaign protesting her death sentence as violating international legal standards preventing the execution of juveniles.
Only 17 years old at the time of the crime, Nafeek was arrested in May 2005 on charges of murdering an infant in her care. A court in Dawadmi, a town west of the capital Riyadh, sentenced her to death in 2007.
At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.
As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.
Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
Saudi women just took one step closer to the finish line — as the 2012 Olympics are set to begin in London today, Saudi women will be competing for the first time. But there is still a long way to go for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, a country where women can now carry the Olympic flag, but not the keys to the car.
Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, a judo competitor, and 800 meters runner Sarah Attar will be the first Saudi women ever to participate in the Olympics. Just two weeks before the start of the games, Saudi officials finally ended their long resistance and joined Qatar and Brunei in sending female athletes to compete in the games for the first time.
With Saudi’s last minute decision, the 2012 Olympics in London mark the first Olympics where every country will have at least one female athlete competing. A country where girls’ sports and gyms are officially banned in public schools, Saudi Arabia will now cheer for their first female athletes representing the Kingdom. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST
Manal al-Sharif publicly defied the ban on Saudi women drivers (Jemal Countess/Getty Images for TIME)
One year ago, Manal al-Sharif, divorced mother of one, took it upon herself to do something, women across the world do every day: Drive.
In May 2011, Manal al-Sharif got in a car and drove through the streets of Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Filmed by an acquaintance, al-Sharif followed the 1990 demonstration in which Saudi women took on the streets of the capital and drove without permission. Her action not only caused an uproar in the kingdom, but also laid ground for the now well-known Women2Drive campaign that celebrates its anniversary on June 17.
Activists around the world took to social media to support the campaign, including Amnesty activists who recently collected portraits of activists supporting the right to drive for Saudi women.