Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Documentary: Working Women in Saudi Arabia

OK - I am trying something new this time! I have actually put a video on my post for you to watch! I have to warn you though - it is LONG! At a little over one hour in length, it is well worth watching if you are at all interested in learning more about modern women in Saudi Arabia. I first viewed this film several months ago and just recently viewed it again, and this time, I thought many of you would be extremely interested in seeing it.

The maker of this film is Bregtje van der Haak, a journalist and documentary filmmaker from the Netherlands, who traveled to Saudi Arabia for two weeks in hopes of interviewing working women there. One major problem that she encountered, however, was that only 5 per cent of Saudi women actually work outside the home, and most of those would decline to be photographed or interviewed for her project. Van der Haak managed to produce an eye opening, fascinating, in-depth documentary about the slow progress being made in this strict Islamic country.

I'd like to give you a brief idea about some of the highlights and subject matter featured in the film, in hopes that you will feel excited about it and that watching it will be an hour of your time well spent:

* Suzan Zawawi, one of the very few working women journalists in the Kingdom, is filmed at length, offering insight and even giving a tour of her home, while describing some of the challenges she faces in her world dominated by men. Suzan is a young mother, well spoken, and optimistic about increasing women's roles in Saudi society.

* There is really interesting footage taken inside a factory that employs women in a separate work area from men.

* Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, the 5th richest man in the world and a champion for women's rights, employs unveiled, uncovered Saudi women in his modern skyscraper palace in Riyadh. He believes that women are severely under-utilized in the Saudi work force.

* Top Saudi female gynecologist, Dr. Zeinab, appears in a segment where she uses IVF in hopes of impregnating a young wife who has infertility problems. In a society where the average family has five children per family and men are allowed to have more than one wife, infertility can be a horrifying dilemma.

* Watch scenes from a TV station where unveiled female newsreaders have increased viewership by over 15 per cent.

* Saudi Arabia's first female airplane pilot, Hazadi Hindi, had to learn to fly in Jordan, since women are prohibited from studying this and other fields in Arabia. So now she can fly airplanes in Saudi Arabia, however, ironically, she still cannot drive a car in her country.

* It took photographer Madeha Al-Ajroosh more than twenty years to be able to open her own photography business in Saudi Arabia. A major obstacle was that women were not allowed into the government Ministries, so she could not get her paperwork and licensing done.

* Another interesting segment with Prince Bin Talal shows him at his outdoor desert camp where he receives thousands of requests for assistance from Saudi citizens.

I urge and encourage you to watch this film, but remember, it is over one hour long, so watch it when you have the time. I promise you that you will not regret it. You can watch it right here by clicking on the triangle in the middle of the screen below, or if you prefer to watch it on a full screen, click on the title to this segment above ("Documentary: Working Women in Saudi Arabia") and it will take you to the You-Tube site, where you can turn it into full screen by clicking on the rectangle within the rectangle just below the video clip on the right.

If THAT doesn't work, here is the link - you can just copy and paste:


  1. Is there a reason your blog neglects the meaningful issues around you?

    Take a look at this

    And this:

    I really find your blog amusing… it’s fascinating you can take us on a virtual tour of a country while maintaining an absolute blinder to anything negative around you. You are the woman who looks at the leopard and tells herself, ‘his spots are really not so dark!’
    It’s almost as if you are not living in the cesspool of a repressive misogynist regime. How important it seems, for you to put on a brave and happy front. I wonder what is really behind all that. Where you wrote, in explaining your move to Saudi, that “My place is beside my husband” – I have to wonder, what exactly are you trying to prove by self-sacrificing in this way?
    Surely any loving husband would want his wife to live in an environment with every opportunity for her happiness and personal development. By the sound of things, you are having to ‘re-learn’ happiness, along standards most civilized society considers barbarous and appalling. You dress it up as an adventure; of course ‘The Adventuress’ is far more romantic sounding than “The Middle-Aged Woman Who Won’t Figure it Out Until It’s Too Late”… Still, I wonder if you ever take an honest look at what you’ve gotten yourself into, and why.

  2. I found this documentary so interesting, and it leaves you with an optimistic feeling. Some of the things that the prince said, though, are kind of strange.
    Among his rules to employ people, he stated: number 2, the person has to be muslim
    number 3, the person has to be ethical.
    So he doesn't believe ethics and religion go hand in hand? Indeed, sometimes they don't but I found it rather strange that a religious person doesn't believe rules 2 and 3 go together. He doesn't like fat people?? And, he insists that women would not wear the abaya or veil? In a way, it's all the same: outside his tower, women are forced to veil, inside, they must unveil. Do they really ever choose?
    AND, he talks as if God granted him his wealth. He inherited a position by birth, not because he earned it. It's not his wealth, his oil, it belongs to the country (or should), so is he really being generous or just giving others what is really part of their share?
    I also liked the saudi photographer, when she says she may look western, but she's really an eastern person, and the west should not force its pace or rythm of change...
    Makes me long to travel again!

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. To Nuri -
    Thanks for your comments. I agree with you - I found this video optimistic for the women's plight in Arabia, and I found some of the Prince's remarks odd. I believe when this came out, he did take plenty of flak for what he said about disliking fat people. So his tolerance for women's rights seems to contradict his intolerance for fat people! It's a little confusing.
    You raise a good point about whether covering is ever a woman's choice here. My SIL veils when out in public here, yet when she travels outside the country, she dresses modestly and covers only her hair. So that tells me, if she really had the choice, she would choose to dress the same way that she dresses when she travels when she is here in her own country.
    Thanks again for your insightful remarks - I'm so glad you watched the video!

  5. Susie: I really liked this documentary when it came out on dutch tv. Good that you pay some attention to it.

    I am always amazed at you, while you are able too have a look at a very repressed society, and I know you see it all, you are still able with your loving heart and family to give us such a unique view on this very closed country.

    I agree that Adnan is a very lucky man to have secured such a prize as our beloved Susie. And Susie has been lucky to have gained such a loving family.
    I think that perhaps you haven't read this blog very carefully: you would then have understood that this is a personal blog, written only through the eyes of an intelligent, loving and goodhearted woman.
    I am afraid that Susie spends very little time on ''important'' political issues. She doesn't have too. Many other blogs are outspoken about the, to my mind disgusting, official treatment of women in KSA.
    This blog, if you care to read it, let's us see Susie's private, loving family, and she is generous enough to share her thoughts and experiences with us.

    As a political person, you'd probably be bored by descriptions of food and birthday-parties, and Susie being loved and claimed by her new family.
    I suggest you look for more ''important'' ''politically'' inclined blogs, and leave Susie in peace.
    And I'd have more respect for you if you'd had the guts to put your own name under any diatribe you'd like to share with us.

  6. Thankyou so much for bringing this film to our attention - I really enjoyed it.

    I am amazed by the extreme views that your blog seems to provoke when it seems to me that you are saying pretty normal things about life going on around you.

    I think that although you are choosing to put a positive view on things, there must be a lot of pent up frustration within the kingdom.

  7. To Anonymous -
    You asked if there was "a reason" why my blog neglects the meaningful issues around me ... the answer would be NO. There are MANY reasons. The main one being that I choose not to because this is MY blog. As for your other rude remarks, obviously my blog isn't for you, so go look elsewhere.

  8. Thanks to Aafke -
    for your kind comments.

    To Heather -
    Yes, I am a "glass half full" type of person. I too do not understand the motives either of Anonymous, but I have known people who can't stand it when others are happy. Sounds like this is one of them.

  9. For Anonymous -
    I have one reason for you: Faoud Al-Farhan!

  10. Dear Susie, The world is full of narrow minded losers, who sit in one place and criticize others for exploring the world. The insecurity and inadequacy Anonymous reveals by writing such garbage must feel very crippling. Keep your chin up, Susie!!!

  11. Susie!!!

    What an unfulfilled, ignorant coward someone really has to be to sign their work as "Anonymous!"

    We've all met them way too many times before - the people who are born and raised, never leaving their neighborhoods, not to mention the country, they were born into. They just know they are the best, but not because they have ever been anywhere else or met anyone else, just because they say so. Their views are so embarrassing - even to them - that they cannot sign their name.


  12. If I were Susie, I probably wouldn't have posted the stupid comments by Anonymous, but since she did, Anonymous - this is for you: The real issue here is the courage to be yourself, do what you want to do, and go by your own name vs. living the life everyone says you should, and also being too much of a weasel to go by any name at all. Hiding behind a computer and expressing your dissatisfaction with your own miserable life by attacking those who fully live their lives - tells us all way more than this sad little person would ever want us to know about them.

  13. This is for Anonymous: Susie's blog is based on HER experiences and what she does and sees in that country, and if you don't like it, then find another blog out there that is more to your taste. What Susie has "gotten" herself into is the experience of a lifetime. For you to question her intent, or insinuate that she might be hiding something, and put her in the position where she might feel she must defend herself about what she chooses to write about is not your right and certainly not your business.
    We love you, Susie, just the way you are!

  14. Anonymous, READ THIS!!!
    If YOU lived in Saudi Arabia, you would be well aware of the dangers of speaking your mind about certain subjects, especially those which are critical of the government and its policies and those where human rights are concerned. To suggest that Susie stick her neck out and endanger herself, or her husband, by writing about such controversial and inflammatory topics as you suggest, is idiotic of you. I would recommend that you visit other websites to find what you are looking for and keep your insults to yourself.
    Susie's blog illustrates the warmth of the people and the culture in Arabia, in ways that we could never have imagined without her sharing. She COULD take a stand and go to bat for every injustice in Saudi Arabia, and the world for that matter, but that is not the purpose of her blog. In a world full of bad news every day and negative images of Islam and Arabs, reading about Susie's adventures is like a breath of fresh air.
    And yes, she IS an "Adventuress" - there are many people in the world who would never CONSIDER making a life change such as she has. I doubt that Anonymous would ever consider leaving her safe little hole in the ground, which is probably in the backwoods of America somewhere!
    Don't change a thing, Susie!

  15. WOW!!! What brought ANONYMOUS out of her cage??? There was nothing inflammatory at all in Susie's last post!!!
    It is obvious to me that ANONYMOUS does not know Susie, or her husband, or know her situation, much less her life's story. If you did, you couldn't have written the uncalled for things you have said.
    Susie writes this blog as a way of reassuring her family and friends back in America that she is okay and happy... NOT as a platform for causes that, while important, have nothing to do with her. She is giving us an insight as to what HER life is really like over there because many Americans either have the wrong idea or just don't know.
    I, for one, appreciate how Susie has educated me through her blog about certain aspects of Islam and Saudi Arabia. And I'm not too chicken to sign my name, either!
    Peace - MEREDA

  16. It's too bad that Anonymous diverted the attention of this post away from its real intentions, which brings to light some real progress being made for women in Saudi Arabia. We may think it is insignificant and slow progress, but for women there, who have been denied the freedom to work in so many fields for so long, I see this film as very encouraging. Thanks, Susie, for bringing it to our attention.

    I must say I agree with all the comments to Anonymous - go blurk somewhere else and leave Susie alone.


  17. All that we normally hear about Saudi Arabia is negative, so I'm glad to see Susie showing that there is another side. I don't think anyone believes that life there is all bliss or that there are no problems. (Is there anywhere that doesn't have problems?)

  18. Susie’s blog does not "neglect meaningful issues." She has links to controversial subject matter on her blog as well as links to many other blogs, and she is always encouraging others to read these things. Whether or not she chooses to discuss these issues in a posting is up to her. Saudi women working in Arabia may NOT be meaningful to you, but for them, it is indeed very meaningful and an enormous step in the right direction. It is all a matter of perspective.
    That Susie chooses to focus on the positive aspects of her life there is, quite simply, HER CHOICE TO DO SO. It is HER blog. It is HER choice. It is not up to "Anonymous!"

  19. For Anonymous …

    If you would bother reading some of her past posts, you would know that Susie has not said that Saudi Arabia is a perfect place to live, but by all indications, she is happy there. Why do you have a problem with that?

    Who are YOU to say that Susie is not happy? You seem to think that you have her all figured out, when in fact, you do not have a clue as to her happiness. Since you seem to think you know what makes Susie happy, perhaps you should start a new career as a mind reader or a fortune teller!


  20. I have been a reader of Susie's blog since the beginning and I have never commented before, but I feel compelled to speak up now in her defense. As a personal friend of both Susie and her wonderful husband Adnan for more than 15 years, I find it insulting and presumptuous that Anonymous assumes to know Susie or her husband and insinuates that Adnan is not concerned with Susie's happiness or her own personal development. Adnan is a man of great integrity and has always been encouraging and supportive of his wife in every way. He is attentive to Susie and her needs and is very proud of her many accomplishments and talents.
    It irks me that Anonymous doesn’t have the guts to reveal her own identity – perhaps it is because she is making false assumptions without any proof (because there is none) to back herself up. An actual “friend” of Susie would have never made these insinuations because they are just not true.

  21. Admittedly Susie made some sacrifices to move to Saudi Arabia. BUT I WANT TO ASK ANONYMOUS: Can you name ONE marital relationship where one has NOT made certain sacrifices for the sake of the marriage? We don’t hear Susie complaining about the sacrifices she has made. Not being able to drive must be tough, but it sounds like the majority of women there are provided with drivers, so who cares? I myself would much rather be chauffeured around than have to deal with the stress of driving! Ok, so she has to cover up there in Saudi Arabia – Susie has said that she is doing this out of respect for her husband and his culture and so she doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb with her blond hair. Leaving her own country, her family and friends must not have been easy, but Susie has always looked at this as an adventure, not a sacrifice. I PERSONALLY DON’T SEE ANY OF THIS AS “BARBAROUS” OR “APPALLING.” And if you think that Susie has SOMETHING TO PROVE by making these sacrifices for her family, WHAT SHE IS IN FACT PROVING TO ME is that she loves her family, that she is flexible and open, and that she is in her marriage for the long haul – although I doubt that it was Susie’s intention to “PROVE” these things in the first place. But in doing so, she has earned my respect and admiration, which she already had before anyway. But to say that she moved to Saudi Arabia to prove anything to anybody or to question her motives is just plain stupid. SO I HAVE THIS TO SAY TO ANONYMOUS, GET LOST!!!!

  22. I personally think of your time there in Saudi Arabia as a sociological study. You are touching on the negatives as well as how much alike the women there are to the women in the U.S. As my friend Deanie said, no matter your reason for moving there, you are making the best of the situation and one can't ask anymore than that.

  23. Susie,
    You know me and I am a very quiet and understanding person but I must say that this Anonymous person has the right to speak his or her mind, but not try to belittle you and that really pisses me off. I know you personally and let me tell you that I am proud of you and what you present to us. Never stop!

  24. It was certainly an interesting videoto watch - some great women there getting on with good careers. I particularly admire the gynaecologist who is very well established in her career and described as the top gynae AND she has 5 kids, 3 studying medicine and the younger 2 with high aspirations too. Really a very inspirational woman.

    Also nice to see what the male factory owner was doing: having two sections to his factory and tehrefore allowing women to work in segregation and at ease and not having to compromise on an Islamic values at all.

    Other parts were of course somewhat nauseating; could've done with a bucket near the computer really - sheer ignorance where one does not expect to see it. :/

    Umm Ibrahim

  25. First issue I wanna address before I comment any further:

    Anonymous, those videos from Youtube have nothing to do with Susie's post. What's the matter with you? Do I need to post a video showing every single nasty thing that goes on in the U.S. alone---while saying, "ALL Americans are like this, porn addicts, child molestors, prostitutes etc"??? I didn't think so. Heed some of your own advice next time, please.

    *relaxes* Now that I got that off my chest... I watched this video and was very proud of my sisters in Islam. Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), they are successful without comprimising their religion & honour as women. Errrr, except for the chickees featured in that guy Waleed Bin Talal's palace place. Speaking of which, what is up with that guy? No offense, but his character was totally confusing. Some of the things he said also was like, "huh?!" BTW I was looking at him through different eyes than most of your readers, Susie, because I was looking at him religious-wise.

    He can talk the talk, but when he did it came off like he didn't walk the walk. Do you get what I mean? LoL! Anyways, I am off to bed and you probably have already started your day by now.

    Take care :-D
    Aalia Always

  26. Thank you to everyone who has commented here. Excuse me for not addressing each one individually, but I do appreciate your input and your kind remarks. Thanks so much.

  27. Good Day Madam,

    I am just a simple Overseas FILIPINO Worker here in Jubail Saudi Arabia.,eversince I came here last September 2011,..I begun to researched about the lifestyle and culture.,then fortunately saw your documentary on you tube.
    To tell you honestly I've watched this for a Dozens of times because I found it so Interesting and Educational.I even recommend this to my friends back in the Philippines so that they have knowledge on what to expect before they go here.
    I hope you wouldn"t mind complementing also your very nice voice,Hoping and wonering what you look like without the Abaya.,but anyways thnk you for this wonderful glimpse fo your life,for allowing people like me to enter to a place were we cannot actually enter but this film allowed us to.
    I hope you will read this and It will be my priviledge.My Highest respect for you Madama
    I'm a huge.huge fan.

    1. Hi Takendol - Thank you for your comment. The video in this post was not made by me but by a Dutch filmmaker. I provided information about her in the 2nd paragraph of this post.
      I do hope you are enjoying your time here in Saudi Arabia and I wish you the best.

    2. Aywa...Thank you ma'am for your reply.,I'm so happy.

      Anyway i want to add one more thing.,About what you've said on the video that only 5% of Saudi Women are employed??
      There's been a newly opened LULU Hyper Market here in our place..and when we checked it out...We were surprised to see Saudi Women as the Cashiers..,
      was this happening long time ago or just now?Wel I guess the numbers are keep on rising.
      Thank you once again Madam.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Hi Takendol - You are commenting on a post that was originally published on this blog in May of 2008. Much progress has been made in these past seven years in Saudi Arabia, including many more women being employed in positions that were previously restricted to them.

  28. Hi I'm a swedish man that just have seen this documentary on youtube.
    it was great.
    everone should see it.
    In the western world people seems to think saudiarabia is a cruel, evil country on a stone age level.
    If we read something it's only negative things.
    I can admit I think saudiarabia is too conservative but is the western alternative better.
    here there is no moral at all anymore.
    I should not be surprised if there is more depression among people in our world then is saudiarabia.

    this film