Posts Tagged ‘Saudi women’

The Same Old Line, Again!

06/11/2012

Prince Turki Al-Faisal is a well-known figure inside and outside of Saudi Arabia since he headed for many years the Saudi Intelligence Directorate and then was the Saudi ambassador to the US. He was educated in the US and the international media interview him regularly. In his last interview with the Saudi-US Relations Information Service, he talked about different subjects that included oil and the future of power generation in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi-US relations, the Syrian Revolution, Iran and the reforms in Saudi Arabia.

Prince Turki said in the interview “But on the whole the government and the people are going forward”. The example he used to prove his point was allowing female lawyers to practice law before the judges in Saudi courts. I read about this story in the Saudi media, yet I am not sure if it is already happening on the ground. Isn’t interesting, by a mean or another, that such an example is used to demonstrate “moving forward”? I hope next time no one will start talking about allowing women to go to schools as an example of “going forward”.  All what this says to me is to keep the bar very low and not to expect much because the very normal is hailed as something great!

He added “I have referred to the reform issue in Saudi Arabia as coming about not because of religious fatwa or government decree, but more because of the change of society itself”. The Prince here is using the same old line used over the years to get around the issue of reforms in Saudi Arabia. It is very easy to blame the society alone rather than, at least, admitting that the responsibility for the status quo of no reforms in the country is shared among all parties including the society. I personally think that since the government monopolized the society for many years, in corporation with the religious establishment, it can be easily blamed for the lack of progress. Using such old argument is a proof that there are no intentions for real reforms. Yet, it is better to be hit by reality rather than keeping some false hopes.

It is funny though that the interviewer did not ask Prince Turki “When would the society be ready? and what does the government plan to do to help the society to be ready, someday?”. I wish someone let me know who responsibility is if the society is not ready for about eighty years and rather than moving forward, the society seems stand still for ages.  For years, the government kept a blind eye on acting on some real issues  and with all what is going around and inside the country it is astonishing to use the same old lines again!.

The Life of a Saudi Woman

05/08/2011

This post was originally posted in Maha’s Noor Elahi blog “A Saudi Women’s Voice“.

Life_ in general_ is a challenge. For women, it is even more challenging; for Saudi women, it is mission impossible!

Yet, we as Saudi women, are living the impossible and in fact, we are making it possible! 

To be more specific & to avoid generalizations, I am going to take my readers today on a journey to a typical day of my life: the life of a 40 year old Saudi wife, mother, & working woman…Don’t expect deep secrets though 😉

Like all responsible women, who don’t belong to the royal/velvet class in Saudi Arabia, my life is one huge roller coaster!

Once that iPhone alarm starts doing its thing at 5:30 in the morning, I wake up and start waking up my three kids for school. After they have their breakfast and go to school, I start getting ready for work. My work place is about 30 minutes away from home…that’s the supposed time…but in reality and due to the dreadful, hideous, and poor traffic in Jeddah, it takes me over 50 minutes to reach work!

So…that’s over 100 minutes (1 hour and 40 minutes) lost on the road…or actually stuck in traffic…and that happens daily!

Once I reach work, I do nothing but work of course…Working in a private sector with high standards is very demanding, time and energy-consuming…all for the good of the society indeed. As an English language instructor and co-editor and translator, I have to keep up with everything new in the field…I have to always be creative and think of new ways to make life easier for my students, who come with minimum study and language skills and aim at learning English, so they can be up to Dar Al-Hekma’s requirements. At Dar Al-Hekma things don’t work as in most educational institutions in Saudi Arabia; there is no such thing as lecturing and then asking students to memorize and do well in tests. It’s the responsibility of the instructor to implant skills and values in students and to make sure they are strong enough to survive in the real world, to find their roles in life, and to succeed in their careers. Of course, I am not the only one responsible for this, but it’s my mission as a member of a great team.

During the non-stop, long work day, I always squeeze 30 to 45 minutes to go to the gym that the college provides for its staff and students. Why on Earth do I go to the gym if I have loads of work?

Well…that’s the other side of the story…I’m woman in a world full of beauties everywhere (TV, magazine, streets..well yes even thought they wear Abayas they’re still gorgeous)…I am woman and I want to be pretty and fit…In fact, I am expected to be fit…there are no excuses for being overweight in a world that has increasing awareness about health and exercise. No matter how many times Oprah says “we must love our bodies and accept ourselves the way we are”, there is this urge in every woman, I assume, to be beautiful and sexy regardless of her age. Don’t get a wrong idea now…I’m not a model! I just try my best to lead a healthy life in good shape, and that, I believe, contributes to my success as a working woman, wife and mother. No one really wants a mom, wife, or employee who has health issues! It’s harsh and sad..but true!

Back to my day…Around 4 pm, I go back home…and on my way home, I go to the supermarket to buy some groceries and necessary stuff for dinner. My kids reach home an hour before me…Of course, if I were allowed to drive, I would have reached home earlier, but I have to wait for the driver to take them home and then return to me (their schools are next to my house). Once I’m at home, I start preparing for a rather late dinner (around 6:30).

Now…most Saudi women have their maids cook for them…my husband doesn’t really mind, but I cannot think of a woman, who is a total stranger to cook for me and my family! Besides, I’m an excellent cook and I’m a really picky eater. I want my husband and kids to eat clean, tasty, and healthy food. I don’t want to be under the control of a maid, who might decide to leave all of a sudden and who is basically not a trained cook nor a professional house manager; she is just a helper at home. It’s my house and my family, and I’m responsible for them. And after all, cooking is not that big a deal!

Once we finish dinner, I stay with my kids to help them with their studies, especially the youngest one, and then the youngest goes to sleep, and I stay for a while with my husband if he hadn’t fallen asleep. By now, there are about three to four hours before I go to sleep. During those few hours, I read, prepare for work, correct papers, write/translate articles, and spend some time with my two eldest kids and with my husband. I forgot to say that I do all those things while I’m extremely exhausted, but I struggle to stay alert and awake (thanks to vitamins!)

I sleep at around 11 to 12 pm to get ready for a new day.

And now it’s time for Mr. Weekend!! And boy that poor weekend is stuffed with millions of things! My weekends, are divided among my kids, parents, in-laws, beauty salons to take care of my skin and hair, spring cleaning a specified room in the house, doctors’ appointments, and three quality hours on Friday for me and my husband alone.

And as you might have noticed, there’s no place in my life for phone calls, chit chats, hanging out with friends, or socializing and visiting family members and attending wedding parties. The only parties that I attend are the parties that my kids are invited to; I always go with them, especially the young one.

I’m trying to be a good mom, an attractive and loving wife, and a productive employee …and I try my best to do all that with a smile on my face…My mission in life, I have come to believe, is to help others and inspire them to get out the best of themselves.

Life is becoming difficult every day. As women, we have to prove ourselves in the workplace and at home, and as for me, I can never be but a giver and a person who inspires those who need to dig deep into their souls.

I could have taken the easier path as many Saudi women do; eat, drink, spend all my time chatting or hanging out with friends, spend a lot of money on trivia, and be a completely dependent woman on the maid(s), but that’s not me! It’s much easier to be this spoiled woman, who sleeps all day and has others do things for her and at the end of the day complains about not getting a Fendi bag from her husband!

But such a life is just a pity in my opinion. Life with all its challenges, difficulties, and obstacles is much more beautiful and meaningful than just a life of “taking or waiting to see what others offer me!”

 Of course, nothing comes easily…I gave up on a lot of things in order to fulfill my main roles in life. I’ve set my priorities and made my choices …and took the road “less traveled by” as the amazing Robert Frost puts it.

If we don’t face life’s challenges, it will hit us on the face!

If you’re like me, be happy that you have the gift of working and giving others instead of just taking. Don’t forget to take care of yourself and your beauty, take breaks, have fun, and be prepared for life’s surprises; the pleasant and the unpleasant ones….And of course, always be proud because you are a giving woman!

But I’m not the only one…..I am sure and I know there are many amazing women out there, who have even more demanding and challenging lives…and the least I say to them is that “You make us all proud!”

Responsible and reliable Saudi women rock!!

Niqab and Freedom

07/10/2010

Eman wrote in her Saudi Woman blog that she was unexpectedly ecstatic about the french ban of niqab! She goes on to explain that taking this decision away from women by banning the niqab is in fact the best solution to liberate the majority of women who are pressured and forced into covering their faces.

I found myself commenting on her post and not ignoring it for two reasons:

  1. She is an Educated Saudi woman
  2. She is an avid blogger who isn’t afraid to speak her mind which is something to admire about her spirit

In my comment, quoted below, I appealed to her love of freedom and expressed my curiosity in her thought process:

While I respect your right to free speech, I help but wonder how can a liberal educated woman such as yourself wishes and advocates for a decision that limits women’s freedom!

You say we are either with the 1 who chooses to cover her face willingly or the hundreds who don’t. But that is simply not true. It is quite irrational on your part. Can’t I support both of them in making their own minds? Wouldn’t introducing a concept of no forced covering had been a better course of action in your campaign?

You campaign to take away the choice from women to cover their face, just because you hate what it represents, is making you look like some kinda of dictator to me.

peace out

She quickly replied, quotes below, with a proposition and a couple of questions. So, this post represents the alternative Saudi voices blog spirit in providing an alternative perspective on the issue by trying to address Eman’s concerns and highlight the misconceptions in her take on the subject:

The Freedom Insurance Proposition

Once you figure out how you can ensure that a woman fully and willingly chose the niqab, I’ll agree with you. However real life has shown that the majority of women who wear it are pressured and sometimes forced to. Here in Saudi Arabia school doors are guarded to enforce covering the face completely.

First of all, no individual can ensure anything when it comes to a social change. This is the reason for starting such campaigns as hers against niqab. So our voices can be heard, supported by others (individuals, bloggers & traditional media) and generally generating just enough public interest on the subject for law-makers to feel the need to pass a law that will, finally, ensure whatever the objective is! In this case, no forced “niqab”; and even then, it comes down to the society and its willingness/readiness for such change.

Where is your Humanity?

Can you yourself endure a piece of black fabric on your face every time you leave the house? From a humane perspective, do you really believe that human beings were meant to start out their day that way?

No, I wouldn’t dream of enduring a “niqab” but I suspect one can get used to it with time. Also, I don’t think humans are meant to eat their way to obesity or pierce every corner of their body. However, I would find it disgraceful to relish in the fact that any government has seen it fit to deprive the people from their personal freedom which does not interfere with others freedom.

Imaginary Ignorant Muslim Women!

Many simple women I personally know abhor the face cover but endure it because they were informed by extremist shiekhs that without it they are no longer Muslims. Do you consider these women victims of ignorance and misinformation or women who freely chose to cover?

Finally, I think Eman exaggerates when she suggests that “many simple women” believe that they will lose their Islam without their “niqab”. It’s 2010, Eman.. Even the most conservative women would only say that it is a major sin to remove your “niqab”. I Can’t imagine anyone saying that a woman would automatically be considered non-muslim just for uncovering her face. Not anymore sister 🙂 and I would’ve really appreciated it if Eman took a balanced approach in depicting the situation.

peace out

Under Media Attention

06/05/2010

The Economist published lately a piece talking about the changing situation of women in Saudi Arabia. It is not the only time you may read such articles in Western media. It seems like a hot topic that gets the attention every now and then. I have to admit that the situation of women in Saudi Arabia is very exceptional compared not only to other women around the world but to the men in Saudi Arabia itself. The prevention of women from driving cars must sound very odd to people around the world. It sounds so to me as well. However, I never felt that fighting for women driving in Saudi Arabia is not the one of the things I want to put my heart and effort behind. One of the obvious reasons for such attitude is that I am not a female who suffers from not being allowed to drive. Yet, I feel some of the pain since I personally have to take care of many things that could be done easily if my wife is driving.

A less selfish reason is my belief that resolving root causes is more fruitful in the long term. Not allowing women to drive is just a septum that gets the attention away from other rooted issues that deserve to be resolved. Saudi Arabia faces a long list of critical issues which are forced, in a way that seems sometimes to be intentional, to be away from the public attention due to the nonstop fighting over smaller issues, such as allowing women to drive, while issues like the public participation in running the country and transparency in spending the public money.

On the other hand and regardless of how much I try, I cannot take such attention to the Saudi women driving issue in the world’s media at its face value. Why? Because the human rights issue in Saudi Arabia goes way far beyond the issue of women driving in the streets of Saudi Arabia yet it gets less attention by the same media. When such attention is given to the right causes such as people who are in prisons without trials for many years, I’ll feel that the media coverage is candid, fair and objective.

I just wonder how many times Saudi Arabia will appear in the international media if someday oil runs out of our wells or the world finds a better source of energy.

What is next?

06/03/2010

A friend of mine asked me: “What is your problem with Saudi Arabia?” Well, I said: Justice, Equal Rights, Choice, and Trust

We live in a country where people abandon their rights because they believe they will never have them. We lack trust in our government, and we lack trust in our judicial system.

I don’t want to force people to follow my believes, yet I want to have the freedom to follow my own. I want to be able to walk in the street without covering my face and without others whispering behind my back: “Astaghfor Allah,” Muttawa shouting at me, and people judging me based upon what’s on my head! I want to have the choice to go out with my cousins to any restaurant without fearing that Muttawa would come arrest us and sentence us to 50 lashes each. I don’t want to be judged because I don’t fear putting my pictures on Facebook. I don’t want to be judged because I deal with men. I don’t want to be judged because I don’t mind appearing on TV. I don’t want to be judged because my father allows me to travel alone. I don’t want to be judged because I sit with my male cousins. It is a choice! I am not bad because I am different. I am just different.

“Your father trusts you,” she said. “But the society doesn’t.”

“Show our women that you trust them, as much as you in fact depend on them” Woodrow Wilson once said. You should trust that we can, and will make the right decisions. Trust us, because we are your partners in life. We gave, we sacrificed, we suffered, we accepted, we listened, and we obeyed. Why are you willing to make us partners in suffering but not in rights?

Now is the time for us to be full partners. Trust us, and believe in us. Having our rights doesn’t mean excluding men from our lives and disrespecting them. It means sharing the responsibility and become equal partners.

The problem is that women are afraid. Afraid of the responsibility, because they have been taught and they believed that they are useless, and that they can do nothing but cook, clean, and raise children which I think the biggest responsibility of all. Women want to be in the safe side, and they rather not face the world as long as there is someone who can face it instead of them. Well, one day there won’t be anyone and you will have to do it on your own.

Rights are taken, not given. And if we don’t take them by force we will never have them. Sitting behind our computers and writing these blog posts and making online campaigns will do nothing. We tried it and it didn’t work.

What is next?

By: Najla Barasain

Worries of Tomorrow!

23/02/2010

I would simply introduce myself as: A Saudi female, who aims for a better tomorrow.

In few weeks, I will be on my way to the United States of America to pursue my post-graduate studies.
Yes, I have traveled before to many countries, including USA. And yes, I have traveled alone. Yet, I am scared! Although I try to act excited and strong, but deep inside me, I am afraid. “Living Alone” for five years, away from my family and friends is a new experience, I knew it will happen one day, but I kept denying it.

Living in Saudi Arabia is nothing like anywhere else! Being surrounded by all kind of walls that keeps you from being yourself and having your own believes, principles, and thus, identity. In Saudi Arabia, your identity is derived from your belonging to a certain family, social class, or “tribe”! Being different is usually not accepted. However, there are always exceptions.

The new thing in the experience of living abroad is facing yourself with your reality, there are no parents to guide you. There is no family, or a society that you’d be thinking: “What would they say”. There is only You and Yourself!

“Having to follow what is common in your community for your whole life is easy, as you don’t have to think about what is Right or Wrong. You just need to follow others. ” a friend of mine says. “Am afraid I won’t trust myself” she adds. “I don’t know myself, I don’t know what do I really believe in, what do I accept or refuse, what are my abilities, I don’t know the real (ME), all I know is a life I am (used to living), and a person I became because I had to!, I had no choice in being (this)” – Pointing to herself.

I am not afraid of this because I was never forced to do, believe in or become someone, I chose to be “Me”. However, I am afraid to face the whole world alone and have no one to rely on. I am spoiled – “Dad’s little girl!”. My father, like many other Saudi men, likes to do everything for us, as he wants us only to study and care for our future without worrying about anything else. I am not sure if it was because he wants to, or because it would be hard for me to do anything being a female. Even the procedures for earning my scholarship, I tried to visit the female section at the Ministry of Higher Education, but because they can’t do anything and they know nothing, I had to have my father go to the men’s section. And to finish my papers at my work, I have to wait for the reply of the men’s section, so it’s faster to let my father check with them directly, and likewise goes everything else!

Depending “FULLY” on myself, is what I want to experience.  Although it is hard, it is beneficial.

I am certain that if I, and my friend, were raised anywhere else, we would only worry about being apart of our families and friends. That’s why a question that keeps hurting me is: when will we -especially females- have a “Normal” life..? We just want it to be “Normal”.

By: Najla A. Barasain