Imagine at the age of sixteen, you’re excited to drive, to finally be your own person, and chase down more opportunities. However, the government is against it, pushing you back as you push yourself forward. Before the guardianship system was partially amended in 2019, that’s exactly how the women of Saudi Arabia lived. They were guarded by men, typically their father, brother, or uncle.
Who is Loujain al-Hathloul?
Loujain al-Hathloul is known for her activism regarding the Women Driving Movement in Saudi Arabia. Other than a women’s rights activist, she is a social media figure, and most importantly, she is considered a political prisoner. The Kingdom has toughened her treatment, transferring her case just last month to the special court. Loujain al-Hathloul is now dealing with crimes of terrorism and national security that the Saudi government has no evidence of.
Women to Drive Movement
Until 2019, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world that banned women from driving motor vehicles. Banning women from driving was established in the 1950s, and ever since then, numerous activists had been fighting to get this ban repealed. Al-Hathloul was first arrested in May 2018 because she pushed to end on letting women drive. She filmed herself driving, seen in the picture. After her arrest, she was then charged for undermining the Kingdom and the Arabian political system.
Mohammad bin Salman.
Under the Saudi Arabian prince and de facto ruler, women have been allowed to drive since June 18. They actually encouraged women to loosen the guardianship and enter the workforce. However, according to analysts, the way the timing arrest of al-Hathloul suggests that the government wants to strongly emphasize that the change has come from the rightful doing of the government, not the empowerment of the people. What exactly is a guardianship? Well, the guardianship system, under Saudi law, all females must have a male guardian, a wali. In 2019, this law was partially amended, women over twenty-one years old are excluded from guardianship. There was a major increase in the workforce, it was emphasized that women in the labor force reached about 35% in 2019.
According to Loujain al-Hathloul’s family, she and her inmates were sexually harassed, tortured, and endured beatings within the walls of the prison. She will be released in about two months, suspending two years and ten months from her charged time. Just a few weeks, a judge rejected her complaint about wrongdoing in the prison. Even within the thick walls, Loujain continued her activism, going on a hunger strike, protesting restrictions on family visits and other conditions in the prison. According to her family, she appears to be weaker.
She will be facing three years of probation and will be banned from traveling outside of Saudi Arabia for five years. According to Saudi foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, “There are accusations of dealing with states unfriendly to the kingdom and with providing classified information and other issues like that.” No further information was given. The charges that connect to al-Hathloul and her activism are actually dismissed and now said that she is arrested because she has been working with foreign entities hostile to Saudi Arabia. It was said that she demanded women’s rights and the abolition of the guardianship system, applying to jobs in the United Stations and speaking to foreign journals, spreading awareness of the state of the Kingdom. According to the sister of Loujain al-Hathloul, there is no evidence for these accusations.
New Administration at the U.S.
The family of Loujain al-Hathloul hopes that the arrival of the new administration of President Joe Biden will benefit Al-Hathloul. In the past, President Trump had shut off the concerns relating to the political prisoners in Saudi Arabia. Since January 20th, where President Biden was inaugurated, Biden says he will keep a tougher stance on Saudi Arabia. He emphasized that reevaluation will occur, looking through the national relationship with Saudi and the penalization of human rights evaluation.