“Under Isis we were strangled and now we are free. But even before that, women stayed at home. We didn’t go out and work. In Jinwar, I’ve seen that women can stand alone,” said says 35-year-old Barwa Darwish, who came to Jinwar with her seven children after her village in Deir Ezzor province was freed from Isis and her husband, who joined the fight against the group, was killed in action.
The detained activists were strong supporters of women’s right to drive – a demand to which the Saudi government acceded last year, but seems determined to ascribe solely to the leadership of Prince Mohammed. On their arrest, the women were labelled as traitors in the official Saudi press, and there have been persistent reports of maltreatment. They have been accused of suspicious contact with foreign entities.
Born to a Saudi father and American mother, al Hamrani grew up encouraged by her parents to take part in gymnastics, football, martial arts inside the residential compounds occupied by rich ex-patriots working in the oil industry. She had gained a black belt in jujitsu by the age of 18. “I was bought up to believe girls could do anything,” she says. “Sports are especially important I think because we haven’t exactly broken that gender divide in the West yet either. Growing up, I was very lucky to have parents like that.”
“There are more women in the colleges now, yes,” 25-year-old Amatela Al Hammadi said. “But what do they do with that education? The woman who holds the highest-ranking job in the whole of Marib is a head teacher. Our voices are still not being listened to. We are not present in meetings that decide our lives; we don’t take decisions at any political or civil society level.”