Twitter and the Birth of “Women Spring” in Saudi Arabia

The plight of women in Saudi Arabia is among the worst in the world, as the World Economic Forum’s 2015 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 134th out of 145 countries for gender parity.

From Wikipedia: According to the Encyclopedia of Human Rights, two “key” conservative Islamic “concepts” that curtail women’s rights in Saudi are

  • sex segregation, justified under the Sharia legal notion of ‘shielding from corruption’ (dar al-fasaad), and
  • women’s alleged `lack of capacity` (adam al-kifaa’ah) which is the basis of the necessity of a male guardian (mahram) whose permission must be granted for travel, medical procedures, obtaining permits, etc.

Last year, Saudi Arabia became the last country to allow women to vote and it is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving.  Domestic violence was only outlawed in 2013 and the law is weakly enforced.  Women face discrimination in courts, where the testimony of one man equals that of two women.

Earlier this year, Digital Rise released a report on How Twitter is providing a platform for protest and change in Saudi Arabia which stated:

Social media is increasingly giving people a voice, even in countries where independent thought is condemned. . .  .Nowhere has this been more evident than in Saudi Arabia, where people are taking to the ‘net in record numbers to have their say. The Kingdom now has the highest percentage of Twitter users in the world: 51 percent of its online population are active tweeters. Saudi Arabia is also the number one country in the world for mobile access to the Internet, with 60 percent of users saying that they log on from a mobile device.

The rapid growth of participation in social media is driving change in this traditionally closed-off society, where the relative anonymity afforded to free thinkers by platforms like Twitter and YouTube is giving many Saudis the chance to question official policy.  . . .

This is not without risks, as the Saudi regime has jailed, flogged and even ordered the crucifixion for those offending it on social media.

Women have taken to social media to press for basic freedoms.  Digital Rise noted:

Perhaps the most potent example of social media’s effectiveness is the recent upswing in support for the right of Saudi women to drive. The Kingdom is the only country in the world which denies women this basic freedom, but change might be on its way. An online petition calling for change gathered more than 16,000 signatures leading up to the October 26 “driving for women” initiative. Organizers say that on that day at least 60 Saudi women got behind the wheel in defiance of their country’s archaic and patriarchal laws, including more than a dozen who uploaded videos of their actions.

This may not sound like an overwhelming show of support, but it still represents the biggest public demonstration against the ban so far. It has also had a ripple effect, with 150 scholars and clerics showing their alarm by staging a protest outside the king’s palace against what they call a “western conspiracy”. Mainstream Saudi media has been more supportive, offering comments such as, “The time has come to turn the page on the past and discuss this issue openly,” and “It’s time to end this absurd debate about women driving.” Meanwhile, there are reports of fathers teaching their daughters to drive as ordinary people prepare for an end to the ban.

And the rest of the world is taking note.

Okay, this one is for laughs . . .