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Wajeha Al-Huwaider: A Brave Heart! PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 27 November 2009 07:40

Al Waref Exclusive
By Jennifer Young - Al Waref Senior Editor

The Al Waref Institute recognizes the many contributions of writer, journalist, mother, and activist Wajeha Al-Huwaider and honors her as the Figure of the Month for December 2009.


Wajeha Al-Huwaider, born in Saudi Arabia and educated at the university level in the United States, has played an integral role in the fight for women’s rights in the Middle East and the world. She has organized public events, written articles in Arabic and English, and circulated ideas through her actions, writing, and speech to the women of the world.

After a year of writing publicly and openly for Saudi Arabia’s Al Watan Newspaper, she was banned by the Saudi Interior Ministry from writing for the state-sponsored press in 2003.  This was one of many roadblocks faced by Al-Huwaider in her lifetime of struggling against institutional discrimination and social divisions between men and women.

She writes, “In Arab countries, and particularly in the Gulf countries, the cycle of discrimination against the woman begins when she is a fetus in her mother’s womb; when she emerges into the air of the world, and goes on until her death.”  She boldly speaks out against the systemic divisions in home, school, and work life and works to ignite women to ban in solidarity and unite for change.

The national ban on her works did not keep her out of the public sphere of activism for long. In 2006, on the first anniversary of Saudi King Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz’s kingship, Al-Huwaider walked along the causeway from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, holding a sign that read “Give Women Their Rights.”  She was arrested after only 20 minutes of protesting and taken into the police station. After hours of questioning she was released into the custody of her younger brother. It is to this form of guardianship and lack of individual rights that Al-Huwaider addresses in much of her writing and activism.

She says, “I am tired of being humiliated solely because I am a woman.”  In an attempt to reconcile these feelings of inferiority, which have been worked into the institutions in place, Al-Huwaider creates what she refers to as “video protest campaigns” and tries to organize events to incorporate women participation in protest. These campaigns include videos, circulated through YouTube and other media outlets, which focus on a number of women’s rights issues like child marriage, polygamy, and guardianship laws.

On the 7th of March 2008, Al-Huwaider filmed, with the help of a female friend, a video of her driving and encouraging women to take action and responsibility for their rights. This video, created in honor of Women’s Day, has to date received 185,845 views on YouTube. This has sparked the interest of international media sources, blog sites, and women across the world to think twice about their rights and how they can participate in their own liberation.

The 16th of August 2009 she wrote an article published in the Washington Post entitled “Saudi Women Can Drive, Just Let Them,” which has received international attention and has placed her voice and ideas into the minds of readers around the world.

While the issues of guardianship are an important feature of Al-Huwaider’s activism, she states “The guardianship rules are only part of a bigger system of subjugating women.”  For years she has written and worked to fight this system and encourage others to join in her struggle to affect widespread change throughout the Middle East. It is not just about civil disobedience she writes, “it’s the whole system that needs to be changed.”

Al-Huwaider’s actions and writing have taken large strides in encouraging the international community to take note of the challenges facing women in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world today. However, she recognizes that this work cannot be done alone. She calls for the participation and action of women everywhere. Women to work as driving instructors from the international community, women from her own community to take responsibility for fighting for their rights, and women of the world to unite in a struggle that is larger than an individual or a region.

“I do not know why you wait, or how long you will wait,” she says to Saudi women who make excuses for why now is not the appropriate time to fight for change.  But she knows now is the right time. Looking to the example of strong female leaders who have gone before, and calling on the actions of those who will follow, Al-Huwaider is calling for large scale change that cannot be ignored and cannot be retracted. She calls for legal rights, which will provide a framework for rights that cannot be denied. She calls on her government and others to respect the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which they are bound, and works to see more legislation implemented.

Wajeha Al-Huwaider has taken large steps in the name of human rights and women’s rights. Working against the institutions and social structures, which have been designed to silence her voice.

Her sentiments and actions have reached out to others in a number of ways, inspiring action in some, fear in others, and new ideas in most. Blogs, such as Saudiwoman’s Weblog, have been used as new outlets for women to dialogue with one another and discuss the new questions and ideas raised by Al-Huwaider. Opening this world of new thought and dialogue has made Al-Huwaider part of a large struggle in the name for human rights, minority rights, and women’s rights.

She has faced many struggles along the way, finding limited commitment from others in her protests, facing the coercion of authorities in forcing her to sign documents that would prevent her from working in the field of activism, and facing backlash and criticism from the community.  However, despite these roadblocks and in the face of institutional discrimination, she has opened an avenue for dialogue and hope for change for the coming generations.

In 2006, Al-Huwaider received the PEN/NOVIB Free Expression Award, recognizing her contributions to the world of journalism and human rights.  Today, Al Waref Institute recognizes her contributions in the world of human rights and feels inspired by her brave initiatives to speak out against injustice and empower others to do the same. It is with her words and actions in mind that we recognize Wajeha Al-Huwaider as the Figure of the Month.

 _____________________

[1] Dankowitz, A, “Saudi Writer and Journalist Wajeha Al-Huwaider Fights for Women’s Rights,” The Middle East Media Research Institute Inquiry and Analysis No. 312, December 28, 2006, < http://memri.org/bin/printerfriendly/pf.cgi>. [1] Ibid[1] Al-Huwaider, Wajeha, “Saudi Women can Drive. Just Let Them,” The Washington Post, August 16, 2009, < http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/14/AR2009081401598.html>.[1] Ibid[1] Ibid [1] Jamjoon, Mohammed and Escobedo, Tricia, “Saudi woman activist demands right to travel,” CNN, July 10, 2009, < http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/07/10/women.saudi/index.html>.[1] The Middle East Media Research Institute [1] The Middle East Media Research Institute

[1] The English Centre of International PEN, “Waheja Al Huwaider,” 2009,

< http://www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/writersunderthreat/saudiarabia/wajehaalhuwaider/>.

Saudiwoman’s Weblog, Prominent Saudis: Ms. Wajeha Al Huwaider, March 25, 2009,                        < http://saudiwoman.wordpress.com/2009/03/25/prominent-saudis-ms-wajeha-al-huwaider/>.Wajeha Al-Huwaider For Women's Day 2008: < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54pRJkJ6B6E>.

 

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