In Saudi women can only drive at their own risk because the government has imposed a ban on women drivers. For this reason, it is illegal for any woman to drive. This ban has been in existence for quite some time.
Manal al-Sharif must have been very disturbed by this issue when she decided that she would fight for rights concerning women driving. Although al-Sharif had received her university education in computer science, she had a lot of interest in women activism. She had actually put a lot of effort in demonstrating or highlighting the lack of women’s rights in Saudi (New York Times, 2011).
She knew that the struggle was not easy and for this reason, she had to carry out her activism tactfully. To begin with, she started her first campaign on the social media that was calling on women to defy the ban on women drivers. ‘Teach me how to drive so that I can protect myself” is one of the campaigns that she had started on face book that required the authority to allow women the opportunity to drive. Al –Sharif also went on to upload videos of her driving on YouTube
Challenges That She Faced
To begin with organizing Saudi women was not an easy task because the society is a male dominated society. The other reason that could have caused this problem is the fact that the Saudi women have been denied their rights for a long time to a point where they have compromised with the situation and that is why they under look themselves.
It was not easy for al-Sharif to convince the women that they could be successful in their struggle against the ban on driving. The attribution of this is mainly obedience to religion. As stated by Nazir and Tomppert (2005) “law in Saudi Arabia, however does not offer equality to women. The text of the Quran and Hadittf are often subject to individual interpretation that favors men position over women.”
The methods used by al-Sharif to mobilize her female counterparts in the realization of their rights to drive were not received well by the male dominated government of Saudi. On May 30, 2011, she was detained for the role she had played in the activism and later released before being rearrested. Therefore, imprisonment and detention without trial is one of the main challenges that she had to overcome.
Although al-Sharif’s activism did not end, the ban on driving in Saudi Arabia there is a lot that she achieved as a leader and as a person. To begin with, she proved that it was possible for women to stand up for their rights in Saudi Arabia and this created a foundation for future struggles. As a person, she gained international recognition for her determination and courage.
What makes her a leader?
Leadership involves standing up and fighting for truth on behalf of the people. This is actually, what al-Sharif did and that is why I consider her to be a leader. The ban on women driving is not legal. The reasons given by the authorities for this ban are also not in any way logical.
This is a problem that has been there for a long time. A true leader is a person who realizes that there is a problem in the society and proceeds to provide the people with a solution (Gardner, 1990). This is what she did, she realized that there was a problem in Saudi social system and she went forth to try to come up with a solution.
Leadership and sacrifice are dependent, which implies that to consider one as a leader then he or she must be ready to make sacrifices on behalf of the people. In fact, Henderson (2004) puts it better by stating that “sacrifice is part of leadership.” In all her struggle against the ban on driving in Saudi, al-Sharif sacrificed a lot.
To begin with, she took the risk of defying the authority, which according to the Muslim laws carries a severe penalty. She also sacrificed her freedom and went to the prison so that the Saudi women could have their rights back like any other woman in other parts of the world. For this reason, al-Sharif is a true leader.
Leadership and strategic planning supplements each other and the conclusion made is that successful leaders must be good planers. Al-Sharif was a good planner and she knew that in order to reach the people she must use the right channel. For this purpose, she applied and used the social media, which are popular in the modern days in order to reach the people. For one to be considered, as a leader then one has to lead by example and this is what she did by driving through Saudi streets and posting the video on YouTube.
Majority of Saudi people believe or accept the fact that they should allow the women to drive. Al-Sharif’s leadership is therefore about the wish of the majority and therefore her leadership style is a participative or democratic form of leadership. Elements of social activism reinforce her leadership.
Baldoni, J. (2003). Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders: New York McGraw-Hill.
Gardner, J. W. (1990). Leadership. Michigan: Free Press.
Henderson, A. M. (2004). Building Effective Leadership from the Ground Up. Coral Springs: Llumina Press.
Mac Farquhar, Neil. (23 May 2011). Saudis Arrest Woman Leading Right-to-Drive Campaign. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/24/world/middleeast/24saudi.html. Retrieved 24 May 2011.
Nazir, S. Tomppet, L. (2005). Women’s Right in the Middle East and North Africa: Citizenship and justice. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.