Days before M.I.A. flipped the bird at the Super Bowl, she was flipping the metaphorical bird at someone else: Saudi Arabia.
In her new music video for “Bad Girls,” M.I.A. is shown prancing about as what are believed to be Saudi women go drag racing, and Saudi male onlookers cheer them on. While some Saudi women are upset with the Arab stereotypes M.I.A. used in the video; many others say they were glad she was “pushing the boundaries” to get the world to pay attention to women’s right to drive.
On Monday, two Saudi female activists took up the fight, too, filing lawsuits against the government for refusing to give them a driver’s license, the Telegraph reports. It is the first high-profile legal challenge to the country’s ban on female drivers.
For much of last year, Saudi women fought against the ban outside of court. Those women included Manal Al-Sharif, who was arrested for posting a video of herself driving online and organizing an campaign to get other women to join; Shaima Ghassaniya, who was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving without permission, and countless other women who went driving and posted photos and videos of themselves behind the wheel online.
These women saw little victories as the year progressed, including the release of Sharif from jail and the lifting of Ghassaniya’s sentence.
And yet the ban remains in place, leading human rights activists in and outside of Saudi to renew their fight this year.
Sharif and activist Samar Badawi filed their suits against the interior ministry Monday, saying: “There is no actual law that states woman can’t drive [in Saudi Arabia, and so] no justification for preventing them from issuing a licence.”
The ban against women driving in Saudi Arabia dates all the way back to a 1991 fatwa issued by the late grand mufti against gender “mixing,” according to embassy cables released by WikiLeaks.
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