skateboarding saudi feminists are using music to demand equal rights

Following a petition calling for the Saudi government to end male guardianship laws, a new music video is calling for gender equality with skateboards, feminist lyrics, and a cardboard cut-out of Donald Trump.

by Hannah Ongley
03 January 2017, 10:41pm

Following the release of a Human Rights Watch report on the male guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia, a petition was launched last fall to protest the oppressive system. Thousands of people signed the first-ever petition for the Saudi government to end the guardianship laws. Meanwhile, the hashtag #IAmMyOwnGuardian started gaining momentum as women all around the world tweeted in support of the burgeoning movement calling for equal rights. Saudi women are currently prohibited from traveling, marrying, or making any major decisions without the permission of a male guardian.

Now Saudi activists are finding more creative ways to demand gender equality. A new music video by artist and musician Majed Al-Esa is currently scandalizing the Saudi establishment after reaching over two million views on YouTube since being uploaded just over a week ago. Titled "Hwages," which roughly translates to "Concerns," it shows women wearing bright sneakers and floral dresses under their traditional black niqabs, and engaging in a range of activities deemed illegal without the supervision of men: playing basketball, going bowling, driving cars, riding scooters, and visiting a fairground. Even riding a plastic bumper car is considered seditious in ultra-conservative regions like Al-Qassim. 

The song's lyrics are equally radical. According to International Business Times, the pop anthem includes phrases that translate to "If only God would rid us of men," "Men make us mentally ill," and "they're making us go crazy." One part that should strike a chord with women outside of Saudi Arabia's borders shows a cardboard Donald Trump appear behind a podium in a pop-up White House with a sign that reads "House of Men." 

This isn't the only recent instance of art being used to challenge the region's oppressive laws. Last year, Australia-based Saudi street artist Ms Saffaa created a viral mural series called I Am My Own Guardian, which featured a portrait of a woman shrouded in a checkered keffiyeh. The portrait has been plastered on Saudi streets and printed onto t-shirts and iPhone cases sold to allies all around the world, including New York artist Molly Crabapple. In an interview with The Guardian in November, Ms Saffaa called out the western framing of Saudi women as victims, which she says only contributes to the infantilization they are fighting against. "Don't say Saudi women don't have a voice. We have a voice," she said. "You just haven't been paying attention." It'd be tricky to say the women in "Hwages" aren't using theirs. 


Text Hannah Ongley
Image via YouTube

Saudi Arabia