Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB) would like to commemorate International Women’s Day by highlighting the role of courageous women activists in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Samar Badawi is a prominent Saudi human rights activist who is a recipient of the International Woman of Courage Award. Badawi has petitioned the government of Saudi Arabia to grant women the right to vote and the right to drive. In addition, she has pressured the government to re-evaluate the male guardianship system that prevents women from working, traveling, or getting married without a guardian’s permission. Badawi challenged this system by filing a lawsuit against her abusive father and demanding to be stripped of his guardianship.
Nazeeha Saeed is a Bahraini journalist who has taken an active role in covering the pro-democracy protests in Bahrain. Despite Saeed’s neutrality as a journalist, the Bahraini National Security Apparatus called her for questioning and asked her to admit that she was working for an Iranian agency. During her interrogation, Bahraini authorities tortured Saeed and forced her to sign a document that she did not read. Saeed filed a complaint to the Interior Ministry identifying the police officer who tortured her, Sara al-Musa; however, the court has acquitted al-Musa of all charges. In 2014, Saeed was awarded the Palm Prize for Freedom of Speech and the Press for continuing her job as a journalist despite government harassment and abuse.
Manal al-Sharif is a Saudi civil society activist who launched the ‘I’ll drive my car myself’ campaign to protest against the discriminatory laws that prevent Saudi women from driving. Al-Sharif, who challenged the norms by driving her car in the city of Khobar in Saudi Arabia, called on Saudi women to participate in the campaign and continued her activism despite losing her job. She has also launched a campaign calling for the release of migrant workers detained by Saudi officials for being unable to pay their debts. Al-Sharif has received the Havel prize for her role in women’s rights activism.
Ghada Jamsheer is a Bahraini human rights defender who heads the Women’s Petition Committee, an organization that calls for judicial reform in Bahrain. The authorities have arrested Jamsheer several times due to her human rights activism. In 2014, Bahraini authorities arbitrarily detained Ms. Jamsheer for more than three months. In 2006, Time Magazine identified Jamsheer as one of four heroes of freedom in the Arab world.
Maryam al-Khawaja is a Bahraini human rights activist, daughter of prominent human rights defender Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, and the co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights. In 2014, the Bahraini authorities arrested al-Khawaja due to due to her human rights advocacy work. Though she was released from detention, a Bahraini court later sentenced her in absentia to a year in prison. Nevertheless, al-Khawaja continues to be an outspoken voice about the human rights violations taking place in Bahrain. Al-Khawaja was named one of Foreign Policy’s top 100 global thinkers in 2012.