Archives for April 2012

One Saudi Arabian Woman Helps Other Women Take a Step Forward

 This is the face of a criminal. Her name: Manal al-Sharif.  Her crime?  Driving a car.

Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi Arabian woman, was arrested and jailed for nine days last year. The charge?  Violating what has been described as a “strict religious edict” that effectively prohibits women in Saudi Arabia from driving a vehicle.  As a longtime advocate for women’s rights, Manal al-Sharif posted a YouTube video of herself driving a car through Saudi Arabian streets in an effort to raise awareness about the issue. Hers is also the face for the Women2Drive campaign. Apparently, she raised more than awareness–including a few eyebrows, the blood pressure of some less-than-sympathetic males, and several women’s rights supporters along the way.

But the right to drive isn’t the only issue facing women in the region. It is also about the inability to attend school without the approval of a male family member, open a bank account, or obtain a passport, among other things many of us take for granted.

It’s shocking to women in the western world, where not only are we free to work, get an education, choose who we marry and have the opportunity to live out our dreams, but we are encouraged and expected to, in most cases. And on top of that, the idea that she is highly educated and working as an IT Professional, somehow makes it even more foreign to our thinking.

We tend to draw a correlation between education and freedom.  In some ways, she has broken through traditional barriers, as a single mother, a highly educated woman and now, as an outspoken advocate for women’s rights—human rights. Yet, in stark contrast, she was actually imprisoned and condemned for getting in a vehicle and transporting herself from one location to another.

When Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah announced that women would be able to vote and become active participants in the voting process, the victory seemed so sweet. But battles for genuine and lasting freedom have always been hard-fought.

Devin Cohen asked the following in The College Voice:

“So, how much has granting women the right to vote changed the political and social landscape of Saudi Arabia? Less than twenty-four hours after King Abdullah made the announcement, Amnesty International reported that a Saudi woman was sentenced to a severe flogging for simply getting behind the wheel of a car.”

And then there’s the refusal of Saudi Arabia to endorse any female Olympians. Something that other countries prize: dedicated, maximum-achieving athletes (any gender) that represent their countries with excellence. It is an opportunity that the world at large views as a badge of honor. According to an article by Human Rights Watch, Saudi’s Prince Nawwaf Faisal said, “At present, we are not embracing any female Saudi participation in the Olympics or other international championships.”


Yet with the continued uncertainty and ongoing struggle in Saudi Arabia to secure what most of us agree are fundamental human rights (for women), Manal al-Sharif managed to make the “2012 TIME 100: the Most Influential People in the World” list, plus Newsweek and the Daily Beast’s “150 Women Who Shake the World” list.  Almost makes you want to jump in the car and honk your horn in celebration!

EVERY STEP FORWARD is a step in the right direction.

Related Reading: Saudia Arabia: Woman Driving Brought to Trial (HuffPost),  Hillary Clinton Throws Support Behind Saudi Women2Drive Movement (Mashable), Manal al-Sharif Released (Arab News).

Twitter: @DestinysWomen. Follow the progress of Women2Drive on Facebook and @Women2Drive on Twitter. (Photo: Manal al-Sharif)

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™ – “Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”



Violence Against Women: The Last Word

Violence has long been used as a weapon to punish, marginalize and silence women, and to control their behavior, attitudes and actions. In the case of war crimes, it is used to inflict such terror that it causes those who observe it to become paralyzed by fear and ultimately heed the control. The actions of the men who devise, commit and insight others to violence will be considered successful if the violence–and the damage left in it’s destructive path–is allowed the last word.

According to a recent report, Afghanistan’s president Karzai supported a decree by a group of government-sponsored religious leaders that stated women are worth less than men, should not leave their home without a male escort, or mix with men at school or in the workplace. Very young girls can be given as wives to men many years older; and, if raped, forced to marry their rapist. Girls in Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and other countries have long been subject to sexual harassment, violence and arranged marriages. In Indonesia, women are being asked not to provoke sexual violence. Though we are aware of specific cultures whose laws and ways are deeply rooted in belief systems unfavorable to women, we still find stories of gender-based violence rocking parts of Latin America, Africa and western nations as well. 

Choose Life, Choose Power

How do victims do more than just “stay alive” after the violence? Is it possible to go back to really “living” , to being whole again, when the loss and torment linger?  Are there women who not only survive, but thrive in the aftermath of such physical pain and emotional terror?  Yes, but how?  They choose to get up in the morning and not give up on their life–family, career, dreams… themselves–because of what happened to them. They choose to move forward.  But it’s easier said than done… In fact, how is it even possible?

By choosing what we think, what we dwell on, and not allowing an act, feeling, circumstance or experience to define us.

There’s the key: “Define”. Does it negate reality? No, but we give power to the things we choose to dwell on. If women who’ve suffered violence make a conscious decision to invoke negative memories, to relive the details of the things that caused them great pain and suffering,  and to keep their abuser at the forefront of their thoughts, they are, in essence, choosing to live there (or at least hang out there), instead of in the present.  In contrast, to think on the equal reality of who they are and their God-given destinies–that they were born into this world for a reason and that their unique life has a purpose that is good–they choose life, they choose freedom…  They choose POWER.

The Experience Does Not Define Her

The pain and fear is excrutiatingly real, but it is only a part of her story. It is not the definition of her life. The violence and marginalization of her personhood are things she experienced, yes; but she musn’t give the experience permission to dictate the rest of her story. She was victimized and had an experience that cannot be erased. Thankfully, it is also true that she has a future and hope. She lived through it for a reason, and that is to live–really LIVE.

While covering the Egyptian uprisings in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, American journalist Lara Logan, found herself surrounded by an angry mob of men and spirited away from her CBS film crew. She was viciously stripped and suffered a “brutal and sustained” sexual assault.  In her testimony, she spoke of learning to live with the triggers of trauma, unwelome flashbacks, incapacitating anxiety and, nightmares and/or fears, joining many other women who have suffered violence.  She pointed out how difficult the healing process can be even when trying to maintain a positive attitude.

What keeps her going?  Like so many others, it is the people she’s met along the way. She thinks about the strength it has taken for others to go on after their families have been massacred, or, those who live in countries where women can’t speak out at all.

The Last Word

She recalled one woman in Africa who was raped and disemboweled, who said she “had to live” because she wasn’t going to give her attackers everything. Lara Logan knows in part, how that woman felt. She had her own brutal experience. She has her own memories and emotions to deal with.  That’s part of what drives her today.  She chose to take back her power, believe in her own destiny, and refuses to be defined by the attack. So, STAND–even if it takes everything in you, because the last word is yours, and you are worth it!

Maybe you (or someone you care about) has been a victim of violence. How have you been able to take back your power by not allowing the incident to define you, or your tomorrow? 

Related Reading: Lara Logan: Life is Not About Dwelling on the Bad, Women in the World Summit, Congo Women: Women of War, Women of Courage

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  It is confidential, free and available in more than 170 languages. 800-799-SAFE (7233).

(c) By April McCallum, Destiny’s Women™ – “Championing the Life, Freedom & Destiny of Women”

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