It's difficult to explain the daily contradictions Saudi women face living in their male-dominated ultra-conservative Islamic country. Fellow blogger EMAN AL NAFJAN, who writes SAUDI WOMAN, has managed to express how utterly confusing life really is in the following article she wrote for the Guardian...
Life for Saudi women is a constant state of contradiction
Saudi Arabia's political paradoxes mean that a woman can be elected to parliament – but she'll need a man to drive her there
What's it like being a Saudi woman? A common question I've come to expect from outsiders – even fellow Arabs. The restrictiveness of the guardianship system, gender segregation and a persistently sexist culture add up to create an exotic and mysterious lifestyle that is difficult to not only explain but also to comprehend.
How do you explain the ingrained paradox of the driving ban on women? The point of the ban is that women avoid situations that lead to them mixing with and meeting men. However, the ban then leads to the necessity of hiring a strange man and getting into the car with him on a daily basis.
How do you explain the huge amounts of money the government spends on educating and training women, so much so that 60% of college graduates in Saudi are women – educating and training all these women, despite the fact that gender segregation laws makes employing them virtually impossible.
How do you explain that this is the way of life that the average Saudi wants for his or her country, when anyone getting on a plane leaving Saudi cannot help but notice how quickly the Saudi passengers abandon their abayas and conservative mannerisms?
A country of contradictions; Saudis have coined an Arabic phrase to explain the unexplainable that translates into "Saudi exceptionality". This past week Saudi exceptionality did not disappoint.
After years of Saudis campaigning and petitioning the king to lift the women driving ban and ease the restrictiveness of the guardianship system, King Abdullah decreed last week that women would be allowed as full members of the Saudi parliament and would be allowed to vote and run in future municipal elections. In bafflement, we celebrated the decree.
Then, within a couple of days of the decree, a Saudi woman was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving her own car. Although women are banned from driving, they have never been sentenced to physical punishment for it. The usual is signing a pledge and in extreme cases paid suspension from their jobs and prison sentences that are never more than a few days.
Local political analysts believe that this lashing was some sort of reaction from the judicial courts to the king's decree. A national and international outcry soon followed and the woman was later pardoned but the contradiction still stands. So in 18 months' time a Saudi woman can be a member of parliament providing that her male guardian allows her to and she finds a man to drive her there.
How do Saudis explain that? It depends on where they stand concerning women's rights issues. Those for women's rights commend the wisdom of empowering women at the highest levels of decision-making so that their voices will trickle down to create real change in the everyday life of the average Saudi woman.
Women members on the Shura council will help bring issues such as child marriages and the unemployment rate for women to the forefront. However, those who oppose the decision see it as the government bending to international pressure. To them, the recent campaigns by organisations such as Amnesty International and Change.org have pushed the government to go against the will of the people.
Either way, the end result is the same, another paradox. Another item to add to the list of things that make explaining what it's like being a Saudi woman difficult; another illogical milestone in Saudi history. The only consistency is "Saudi exceptionality".