I don’t think too much about how easily I am able to move about the world, or even as a married woman have such a great friend as Dave, who by the way is liked and respected by my husband as well. I drive, ride a motorcycle, work outside the home, have a great social network of men and women friends, and can go where I want without permission from anyone.
Many of the freedoms I enjoy are the direct result of those behind me that have put themselves on the line. The men and women of World Wars I and II for example, or the people here at home, like the Freedom Riders or the Suffragettes. I read about these things, watch documentaries on TV, and their stories are played out in dry text for us to study in school. Yet we know so little about what a toll it takes to each individual personally. The cost to them is often great, sometimes with their lives.
As this Memorial Day rolls around, their sacrifices are becoming clearer to me than ever before. Why? Because I am watching a friend fight for basic freedoms, is risking her livelihood, her family and even her own life to bring awareness and a hope for change to the women of her home in Saudi.
I had the pleasure of spending time with Manal Al-Sharif know to us here as Mia, when she spent a year working in the US at the company where Dave works. She is a vibrant, outgoing and caring individual. At the time, I felt as if my eyes were opened with the stories she had to tell; I could not have been more wrong. Stories, of how she had needed permission from a male family member to travel abroad. How her young son had to be left behind because the men in her life did not permit him to travel with her.
Recently, Mia found herself standing on the street corner crying. She could not get a cab, calls to her male family members went unanswered, and she was putting her life in danger just being on the street late. Saudi women are not permitted to drive, they must hire a driver, take cabs or have their male family members drive them. There she was a 32 year old woman; mother of one, and an intelligent hard working woman sobbing like a child because she could not get a ride home. It was the event that propelled her to become and activist.
Mia, who learned to drive while here in the US, videotaped herself driving in her home country. Please read more about it here. http://arabnews.com/saudiarabia/article427723.ece. There is no specific law in Saudi the prevents women from driving, yet as a result, Mia has been imprisoned for five days, has had another ten days tacked on and the religious clerics are calling for her public flogging. I urge all of you to read Mia’s story and then sign the petition to the Saudi Embassies and Diplomatic Missions abroad here: http://www.petitiononline.com/FreeMnal/petition.html, Mia is putting herself at great risk for the women of her country and at a great personal price to herself. It is a small token of support we can do for her. Then as you sign your name, send a small prayer of thanks up to those behind us who sacrificed so we can enjoy the freedoms we take so carelessly for granted. And if you have a loved one who served our country, make sure to seek them out this weekend and hug them.
See Mia's video here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/25/manal-al-sherif-driving-campaign-saudi-activists_n_866347.html