Al-Sharif is an outspoken critic of the Saudi dictatorships institutionalized discrimination against women. In 2011, she cofounded the Women2Drive campaign, which called upon Saudi women to engage in civil disobedience by driving their cars in an effort to pressure the Saudi monarchy into issuing an official decree granting women the right to drive.
In May 2011, al-Sharif filmed herself driving through the Saudi city of Khobar and posted the video on YouTube and Facebook. The video has been viewed more than a million times in Saudi Arabia and abroad, and sparked a renewed conversation about womens rights in Saudi Arabia. Shortly after publishing the video, al-Sharif was detained. Amnesty International declared al-Sharif a prisoner of conscience, and over 4,500 Saudis signed a petition to King Abdullah demanding her release. After sustained pressure from domestic and international groups, al-Sharif was released on the conditions that she post bail, return for questioning upon request, and refrain from driving and from speaking to the media.
The New York Times described al-Sharif's campaign as a "budding protest movement" that the Saudi government tried to "swiftly extinguish," attributing al-Sharif's detention to the Saudi authorities' fear of a wider protest movement in the country.