Interview with Nassima AlSadah, Adala Centre for Human Rights

1. How do you operate as a female activist in Saudi Arabia?
We have never had an organisation or union between women. We tried to organise something like that but there are a wide range of different beliefs amongst Saudi women. Women are afraid of the persecution that might result and so we were unable to establish a formalised group.

women to drive

However, I know the women that are interested in women’s issues and they know me, and we keep in touch. When I travel in Saudi, I meet them in Jedah or Riyadh, and we use Whatsapp, Facebook and Skype to keep in touch. I am pretty sure the authorities monitor everything. Legally, in Saudi we cannot arrange a meeting of over 30 people and must get permission for meetings over that number.

2. What are the major problems facing women in Saudi Arabia that you are trying to change?
We choose to focus on the issues that might achieve some success.

In the Eastern Province where I live, we have a lot of detainees in jail. There were protests in March 2011 and a lot of people were detained as a result. We look after the families of the detainees. I have attended court hearings with the families of those arrested and helped to explain the issues heard in court. Women were not allowed in court in Saudi until this year. It’s an incredible experience being allowed in. We have perhaps one female lawyer in Saudi so there is a big gap between the law and women here. Women don’t know how to use the law and so I try to teach the mothers and daughters of those arrested. I also used the law in 2012 to sue the interior ministry on the driving ban against women in place here. Other women have since contacted me since they heard I did this.

It was a woman named Menala Sharif that started the driving campaign from the Eastern Province. Now that we have started a law suit against the interior ministry, we write articles, try to appear on TV, and use twitter with the hashtag #women2drive. We support other women trying to drive in other provinces.

However the case has pretty much stopped. The court contacted the interior ministry but the ministry didn’t respond. I have since contacted the court and asked why no session has been arranged to hear my case. It is illegal for the interior ministry not to respond. I know this much. The law says they need to reply within 2 months and the judge asked me how I knew that as he said it was strange for a woman to know anything about law in Saudi.

I like to raise awareness in my country so I am trying to train other women on law. I have trained many over the years.

3. How can the rest of the world help female Saudi activists?
We need other women in the world to speak loudly for us, to contact the media and keep talking about our issues. We want them to keep asking about reform for women and for all Saudis.