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Women's Rights Activist & Chief Information Security Officer at UNSW

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The struggle is not about driving a car, the struggle is about being in the driver's seat of your own destiny.

Manal al-Sharif has been listed as one of TIME Magazine's 100 most influential people, as one of Forbes Top 50 Women in Tech and by Newsweek as one of the 10 tech-revolutionaries in the world. She is a prominent voice advocating for women's rights and empowerment and was one of the first Saudi women to specialize in Information Security, starting her career in 2002 with Saudi Aramco, the largest oil company in the world.

Current Work

She is a leading expert in Cybersecurity and is currently the Chief Information Security Officer and the University of New South Wales.

Previous experience:

Activism: In 2011, al-Sharif co-founded and led the #Women2Drive movement, to challenge the ban on women driving in her home country of Saudi Arabia. She was arrested and imprisoned for "driving while female" and was released on the condition that she never drove again on Saudi lands and never to spoke about the experience or conduct any interviews. Ignoring these conditions Manal continued campaigning for #Women2Drive and #IAmMyOwnGuardian with the aim to end male guardianship in her country and in June of 2018 the Saudi government lifted the ban on women driving. Manal also started #Faraj, a campaign to help domestic helpers leave jail, and #IAmLama which resulted in codifying the first anti-domestic violence law in Saudi. As a result of her tireless activism, she was awarded the first Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent.

Speaker: Manal is a TED & Harvard speaker, she has also spoken for the United Nations, UNESCO, the Obama Summit, Google, Yahoo!, Oslo Freedom Forum, WIRED, Trust Women, The Arab Institute in Paris, the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington DC, Roosevelt House in NY, the Clinton Global Initiative, Women in the World, Dallas World Affairs Council, and many others.

Her speech at the Oslo Freedom Forum was chosen to published in the book Speeches of Note by Shaun Usher among 75 notable speeches throughout history.

Author: A blogger and regular contributor to international media, Manal has written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Alhayat and many others publications. Her memoir, ‘Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening,’ is an intimate story of her life growing up in one of the most masculine societies in the world and an Amazon best seller. It was voted by GoodRead as one of the top ten memoirs of 2017 and was listed as #1 book for the summer reading by Oprah Magazine.

Talking Points

Empowerment & Women in Tech

Why is it important for women to acknowledge the special status they deserve in society? What difference can our actions make to the position of women now and for the future? Manal's story is about what it is like to be a working woman in a male-dominated field, globally and specifically in Saudi Arabia. She presents the challenges, facts and reality and how they can make you or break you.

Social Activism & Women’s Rights

Methods of activism will continue to evolve along with developments in culture and technology. Leveraging social media to practice social activism for social reform in correlation to women is an important tool. Manal's presentation discusses social activism in the context of Saudi and other countries in the region. Are women here still denied their basic rights to education and freedom, and face violence and abuse? What is being done about it and where does religion stand?

“The struggle is not about driving a car, the struggle is about being in the driver’s seat of our own destiny”

Manal al-Sharif reveals how women in her country are forced to be faceless, voiceless, and nameless. Al-Sharif identifies the 1979 Mecca Grand Mosque Siege as a defining event for her generation, marking the resurgence of fundamentalist Islam in Saudi Arabia. Al-Sharif reveals how exposure to the internet and images of the 9/11 terrorist attacks led her to reject fundamentalist Islam. She describes how she launched the Women2Drive campaign, which encourages Saudi women to drive in a country where it is against the law for them to operate a vehicle. But al-Sharif emphasizes that the campaign is about more than just driving a car-it is about being in the driver’s seat of her own destiny.
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