Loujain Al-Hathloul: Saudi Arabia’s Most Prominent Activist

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CHINO, California — Human rights activism has long been a standing battle for those in Saudi Arabia. Recent major steps in advocating gender equality as well as other instances of her human rights advocacy for women in Saudi Arabia have propelled Loujain Al-Hathloul into the spotlight.

Loujain Al-Hathloul, a 31-year-old women’s rights activist, was born in Saudi Arabia. Al-Hathloul was arrested for violating the driving ban set for women in 2013. She violated the ban during an October public awareness campaign that advocated for women being able to drive themselves. In 2018, authorities arrested al-Hathloul and 11 other women’s rights campaigners. She campaigned to end Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship system and had publicly continued the fight for women’s rights.

Al-Hathloul’s recent —and conditional— release from prison has renewed attention and provided more awareness for her campaign and work. Here are three things everyone should know about Loujain al-Hathloul:

1. She was a pivotal force in lifting the driving ban for women.

Loujain al-Hathloul’s first arrest for driving is where her public story begins. This was the first widely-received example of activism in her campaign against status quo male guardianship. Al-Hathloul’s first arrest, which kept her for more than 70 days in juvenile detention before she got out, drew international attention to her case and the situation for Saudi women in general.

Saudi Arabia later enacted changes to driving practices under Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who recognized the right to drive for women in 2018. Although this was a pivotal change and a step forward, Al-Hathloul had limitations on how she could express excitement. She had been previously “forced to sign a pledge saying she would no longer publicly campaign.”

The driving campaign, though not considered the most prominent or urgent cause for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, kindled the process of spreading awareness for basic human rights for many in the region and beyond. It led to a more diverse and open conversation about advocacy for Saudi women with Loujain al-Hathloul at the forefront of the discussion.

2. Time named her among the “100 Most Influential People of 2019.”

During her time in prison after a 2018 arrest, al-Hathloul and several other women arrested that day reported being tortured while in custody. Al-Hathloul’s brother, Walid al-Hathloul, shared via Twitter how his sister faced direct pressure from Saudi officials while imprisoned.

Further accounts and even pleas from family increasingly conveyed al-Hathloul’s plight while simultaneously raising the seriousness of her message. Shortly thereafter, Time Magazine included al-Hathloul in its list for “100 Most Influential People of 2019.” It recognized her long-standing commitment to driving change in Saudi Arabia even when met with legal and political resistance.

In a description for Time, Sarah Leah Whitson, an executive director for Human Rights Watch, described much of the recent social progress in Saudi Arabia as being “built on the fearless, longtime efforts of activists like Loujain.”

3. She received a nomination for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

Due to her activism in 2014 and the risks that followed, al-Hathloul sparked a surge for women’s rights campaigning. Because of her perseverance through the past decade, al-Hathloul has made a name for herself as a consistent advocate for her cause. Her activism, her voice and even her imprisonment led to a Nobel nomination in 2019. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, with others, nominated Al-Hathloul and remarked, “Loujain embodies the peaceful struggle for equal rights at great risk for her own safety and well-being.”

Al-Hathloul’s nominations and recognitions serve as reminders of the importance of her work for women on an international stage although her campaign focuses first on her home of Saudi Arabia. Her active voice and continued efforts lend themselves to the fight for equality in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, her endeavors will likely shape Saudi Arabia and the rights of its future generations for years to come.

– Vanessa Morales
Photo: Flickr

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