Sunday, June 26, 2011

TIME Magazine: Road Warriors

The topic of women being denied the right to drive in Saudi Arabia has finally taken center stage in world news, with Saudi women united in the act of peaceful civil disobediance by getting behind the wheel since June 17. Although more and more women have been revving their engines along the streets of Saudi Arabia since that day, most have managed to drive unbothered by police - a far cry from just last month when Manal al-Sharif was thrown in jail for ten days because she dared to drive in this male dominated society. Driving is just the tip of the iceberg regarding the glaring lack of equality for women's rights in this country. The July 4th issue of TIME Magazine published an article written by Aryn Baker about the driving issue:


When Maha al-Qatani settles into the driver's seat of her family's baby blue humvee these days, she goes through a familiar routine: a glance in the rearview mirror to ensure that her headscarf and face veil are on right; a whispered prayer; and a reassuring pat of her Coach handbag, stuffed with all the essentials for a possible prison stay — toothbrush, deodorant, comfortable clothes and prayer rug.

She may need them. On June 17, al-Qatani made history by becoming the first woman in Saudi Arabia to receive a traffic ticket. She sees it as a badge of honor, proving that she defied a prohibition on women driving in the kingdom and, she hopes, paving the way for more women to do the same. Still, the possibility of prison remains. "If no one sacrifices, no one will get their rights," al-Qatani said on the day of her maiden drive in Saudi Arabia.

In one of the most peculiar revolts to have been inspired by the Arab uprisings, al-Qatani and dozens of other women have taken to the streets — not on foot but behind the wheel. They are leaving their drivers at home and heading out on their own to the grocery store or to the doctor or to pick up their kids from school. Those thankless errands may plague women around the world, but for some in Saudi Arabia they are a long-dreamed-of freedom. "What these women are doing is brave, and what they are seeking is right," said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of the protests.

Saudi Arabia — with its vast, unpopulated deserts, low-slung architecture and cheap oil — is a country made for cars. The capital city, Riyadh, is bigger than Los Angeles and has no public-transportation system. So women rely on male family members to get around or hire immigrant drivers at considerable cost.

Reforms in the 1960s opened the way for female education; now women make up 58% of the university population. But that achievement is not matched in the workplace, where women account for less than 15% of the labor force, mostly in the education and medical sectors. The government is urging private businesses to hire more women — under conditions designed to prevent mixing between unrelated men and women — but it is hard to see how that will happen if they can't drive to work. Many middle-class families see little incentive to let their daughters and wives work if they end up spending their salaries on drivers. Architect Nadia Bakhurji estimates that she spends an extra 25% in overhead just providing cars and drivers for the female staff at her firm. It's a sacrifice she is willing to make, she says, but in most other businesses, "it becomes a barrier to hiring women."

Read the rest of this TIME Magazine article by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

My Fellow American

I know from personal experience and from just watching the news every day that many Americans hold ALL Muslims responsible for 9/11, spread lies and misinformation about Islam, and have no desire to know or learn about Muslims. The Mission of "My Fellow American" is to combat Islamophobia, to try to change the preconceived misconceptions and to get Americans to realize that the vast majority of American Muslims are just like you and me.

"Muslims are our fellow Americans, who today face threats to their civil rights and even their personal safety because of the fearful and often hateful rhetoric that would not be tolerated were it uttered about any other minority group." - from the "My Fellow American" website "About" page

The following short video is effective, poignant, and gives lots of food for thought.


For more information about the My Fellow American Project and to find out what you can do, click here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Kuwaiti Bimbo Wants Return of Sex Slaves

I guess I was paying too much attention to Anthony Weiner's wiener story to notice when the subject of this post broke two weeks ago about a Kuwaiti Muslim woman who sees no problem at all with legalizing sex slavery in Kuwait.


In her twisted mind, Salwa al-Mutairi, a well-known television hostess and a thankfully unsuccessful candidate for the Kuwaiti Parliament, illogically rationalizes that sex slavery is perfectly acceptable in Islam. She claims that it is a way to legitimize men's sexual relations outside of marriage without it being considered a sin, thereby preventing adultery. Not missing a beat, al-Mutairi further suggested in a recent video that imprisoned non-Muslim Western women from war-torn countries like Chechnya could be kidnapped and considered the spoils of war and could be sold as sex slaves to fill the needs of lusty sex-crazed Kuwaiti Muslim men. And not only that, she also went on to say that these poor women should happily welcome their new roles as sex slaves instead of starving to death in prisons. (I swear I'm not making this up!)

To give credence to her argument, al-Mutairi cited the example of Harun al-Rashid, the renowned Caliph of Baghdad, who ruled there from 786 to 809. Harun al-Rashid’s escapades became legendary in the tales of the "Thousand and One Arabian Nights,” where it is said that when he died, he had acquired a whopping 2000 concubines. Justifying her opinion with the al-Rashid illustration, al-Mutairi said, “I don’t see any problem in this, no problem at all.”

Al-Mutairi's irrational arguments for promoting sex slaves for Muslim men only further demonstrates the great chasm in the disparity of the attitude that exists between stereotypical radical Muslims and the rest of the world. In fact, this latest outrageous idea of hers has been called “a gift to Muslim haters,” has provided juicy fodder for Islamophobes, and has caused al-Mutairi to be labeled “Kuwait’s version of Ann Coulter.” Bloggers and Tweeters have labeled al-Mutairi “a disgrace to women everywhere,” suggested that she herself be treated like war booty and become a sex slave, and have attacked her declaration that sex slaves are acceptable in Islam, which is a disputable topic of debate .

Clearly this backward Kuwaiti bimbo is doing no favors for Islam or Muslims everywhere, not to mention how her opinion sets back the slow moving vision of progress for women’s rights in the Middle East region. No doubt the vast majority of Muslims don’t agree with this moronic woman. It’s just unfortunate that she’s the one getting all the attention.



Here are some additional articles and opinion pieces about this story:

Salwa al-Mutairi: A Gift to Muslim-Haters - by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed (Mideast Posts)

The curious case of the woman who thinks sex slaves will stop Arab men from committing adultery – by Muna Khan (Al Arabiya News)

Muslim Woman Seeks to Revive Institution of Sex-Slavery – by Raymond Ibrahim (Middle East Forum - FrontPageMagazine.com)

Female activist calls for legalizing sex slavery – by A Saleh (Kuwait Times)

Men should be allowed sex slaves and female prisoners could do the job - and all this from a WOMAN politician from Kuwait (Mail Online - DailyMail.co.uk)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Ahmed Al Omran's NPR Article on Saudi Women Driving

Ahmed Al Omran is a young Saudi journalist whose voice is loud, strong and respected in Saudi Arabia and around the world. With a degree in journalism from Columbia University, Ahmed's writings have appeared in various worldwide publications. In 2004, Ahmed began writing his popular blog "Saudi Jeans," which focuses on current events and his views pertaining to political and social issues in Saudi Arabia. The following article written by Ahmed appeared on NPR.org and has first hand accounts and sound clips of several Saudi women who got behind the wheel on June 17 and took to the streets in Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from driving.



'A Historical Moment': The Saudi Women Challenging A Government By Driving
By Ahmed Al Omran

Fridays in Riyadh are usually slow and lazy, as the sprawling city only begins to wake up after the noon prayers. But this past Friday, a women's rights issue that's been brewing for decades spilled onto the streets.

Thursday, June 16, Najla Barasain wasn't sure if she would get behind the wheel. The 25-year-old had been driving her Kia Optima sedan for the past 10 months in Greensboro, N.C., where she goes to school. Barasain is pursing a master's degree in business administration there, but was back in Saudi Arabia for her summer break.

She read accounts on social media sites of other women who had driven their cars and that encouraged her. She felt she had to make a statement on this day. She told her father who was reluctant because he didn't want to get in trouble. But eventually he agreed to sit in the passenger seat and let his daughter drive.

To continue reading this article and hear the sound clips, click here to go to the NPR site.

Friday, June 17, 2011

DWF - Driving While Female

“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves." ~ Abraham Lincoln

Today, June 17, 2011, marks the day that women in Saudi Arabia planned to begin their peaceful protest against an unfair ban against "Driving While Female" in the conservative desert kingdom. There have been reports from all over the country about women who hold valid international drivers' licenses taking their rightful places behind the wheels with the support and blessings of their husbands and fathers. At the same time it appears as though the police are confused as to what their course of action should be, especially after the unpopular decision to jail Manal Al-Sharif, a young Saudi mother, for ten days in May 2011 for her crime of Driving While Female.


Disabling half the population of the country is a bad policy on so many levels:

• The added expense to families who must hire drivers is not cost effective, especially when women are perfectly capable of driving themselves.

• Importing droves of foreign males to act as private family drivers and taxi drivers presents a variety of potential problems for the Saudi women who are supposedly prohibited from driving for their own safety.

• Placing a Saudi woman in the company of a man driver who is not part of her family is totally against the teachings of Islam, which calls for unrelated men and women not to be alone together to prevent inappropriate contact from taking place.

• Those families who cannot afford drivers or choose not to have them suffer greatly due to the added stress on the male members of the family who must chauffeur the women around besides working their regular paid jobs.

The women also suffer from the inconvenience of having to rely/impose on male family members just to take them to school, work, shopping, or to visit friends or relatives.

• In emergency situations, Saudi women are forced to choose between saving a loved one's life by driving or by obeying the law of the land and possibly watching their loved one die.

The reasons for why disallowing women from driving is such a bad policy are too numerous to mention here, while the excuses for keeping this policy ban in effect range from feeble, outdated, unfair, and illogical, to downright ridiculous.


The world has finally sat up and taken notice of this infringement of Saudi women's rights. There have been countless newspaper articles reporting on the situation and numerous online groups and videos supporting Saudi women in their quest to obtain this very basic function of living a normal life.

The Current Radio Program, CBC Radio featuring an interview with Saudi Blogger Eman Al-Nafjan

Facebook Group "Yes 2 Women Driving in Saudi Arabia"

Saudi Women Defy Driving Ban

Saudi Arabia Women Test Driving Ban

Saudi Women Drivers Take the Wheel on June 17

Saudi Arabia Women Drive Cars in Protest at Ban

Saudi Women Challenge Male-Only Driving Rules

YouTube videos "Honk for Saudi Women"

YouTube videos of "Saudi Women Driving"

Women Who Drove in KSA in 1990

Those who are against allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia at this point will probably never be ready for it and will never change their minds. But it is obvious to me after my short time in the kingdom these past few years that those who are in favor of lifting the ban have found their voices and are ready for this to happen.

"Driving While Female" should not be considered a crime anywhere in the world.

What will Saudi Arabia do?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

PeePee and VaJayJay Airport Design Comes Under Fire

When you watch this video, you might think that this is a big joke or a comedy sketch, but what's really sad about this is that this Saudi religious cleric is totally serious. I've said before that many men in Saudi Arabia, including the religious leaders, seem to equate everything in the world somehow to sex and see phallic symbols everywhere. The strict segregation of the sexes here creates depraved and unhealthy views about sex. I'm sure that there wouldn't be such an obsession and focus on sex here in the Kingdom if the men weren't so sexually repressed. Reasons for why women can't drive, reasons for this and reasons for that - everything always seems to boil down to sex. This video gives you an idea of the type of twisted thinking there is in something as simple as the design of a proposed new airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. There is also a tie-in to this being a Western conspiracy as well. Oh brother!

Here is the website for the new King Abdulaziz International Airport project.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Doulas in Jeddah



We’ve all probably heard of Midwives and know what their function is, but have you ever heard of “Doulas?” I recently learned about Doulas from Alicia Ali and Dayle Valenzuela, two young women who provide Doula services in Jeddah. They were kind enough to answer my questions.

Susie: Exactly what is a Doula and what does a Doula do?

Dayle: A Doula is a trained child birth professional. She is usally a mother herself, and offers her services to help aid women before, during, and after childbirth. A Doula is there to offer information to the mother prenatally, and help her figure out what kind of birth she wants. The Doula usually assists the mother at the onset of labor, and accompanies her wherever she chooses to birth. Doulas are trained in recognizing the needs of a laboring woman, and provide emotional and physical support to her.

Alicia: Most often the word Doula is referring to the birth Doula, or labor support companion, but there is also the antepartum Doula and the postpartum Doula. Most Doula and client relationships begin a few months before the baby is due. During this time, they establish a relationship that gives the mother complete freedom to ask questions, express fears and concerns, and take an active role in creating a birth plan. Most Doulas make themselves available to the mother by phone to answer questions or explain any developments that may arise in pregnancy.

Doulas do not provide any type of medical care. However, they are knowledgeable in the medical aspect of labor and delivery so they can help their clients get a better understanding of procedures and complications that may arise in late pregnancy or during delivery. During delivery, Doulas are in constant, close proximity to the mother at all times. They can provide comfort with pain relief techniques, such as breathing, relaxing, massage and laboring positions. Doulas also encourage participation from the partner and offer reassurance. A Doula acts as an advocate for the mother, encouraging her in her desires for her birth. The goal of a Doula is to help the mother have a positive and safe birth experience, whether the mother wants an un-medicated birth or is having a planned cesarean birth.

Susie: Are there different kinds of Doulas?

Dayle: Yes. The two main types of Doulas are birth and postpartum Doulas. A birth Doula attends the mother during her labor, whereas a post partum Doula assists the mother after childbirth.

Alicia: Antepartum Doulas provide help and support to a mom who has been put on bed rest or is experiencing a high risk-pregnancy.
Postpartum Doulas are there to support you in your first weeks of being a mom. They provide informational support about feeding and caring for the baby. They provide physical support by cleaning, cooking meals and filling in when mom needs a break, and they provide emotional support by encouraging a mom during those times when she feels overwhelmed.
Labour Doulas are trained women who will stay with you throughout labor and birth.
A Doula also provides emotional support, physical comfort measures, an objective viewpoint and assistance in getting the information she needs to help the mother make empowered decisions throughout her pregnancy.



Susie: How long have you been a Doula and what interested you in becoming one?

Alicia: I have been practising as a Doula for 10 years, including 7 years of post training and 3 years of pre-training. My interest began after my second child. I was fortunate to have a Doula for all three of my children, yet after delivering my second child, I was asked by my brother to ‘be there for support’ for his first baby. At that time, I had just delivered 3weeks prior and could not refuse. It was a success and the couple highly valued my presence. This triggered my personal interest to take professional doula training. Finally during my third pregnancy when I was 7 months pregnant, an opportunity came up for training in Canada.

Dayle: I've been a Doula for over a year and half now. The main reason I chose to become a Doula is due to my own childbirth experiences. I experienced a very difficult labor and delivery with my first child. The type of birth I got was not at all what I was planning, and I greatly regretted not choosing to hire a Doula. I was determined after that to help other mothers avoid some of the things that made my birth and pospartum experience difficult. With my second pregnancy I hired a Doula, and it made a huge difference! I had completely natural birth, and it was honestly the best day of my life.


Susie: What type of training does a Doula have?

Dayle: A Doula is usually trained by an overseeing organization. I was trained in Phoenix, AZ, by a Midwife to be a Birth Trust Doula. There are several organizations that a Doula can choose from.

Alicia: Workshops are mainly conducted by Doula Trainers. Workshops styles vary; some can be done over a couple of days. CAPPA and DONA are popular Doula certifying bodies. Each organization has their own minimal requirements as far as training is concerned. This may be found on their respective websites.

Susie: What are some of the benefits of hiring a Doula?

Dayle: Studies have shown time and again that Doula-attended births have lower incidence of harmful interventions such as episiotomies, vacuum extractions, c-sections, forceps delivery, and the list goes on. Mothers who chose to hire a Doula have also reported increased satisfaction in their childbirth experience.

Alicia: In all the above studies, the Doulas used soothing words, touch and encouragement. They explained the procedures as they occurred and translated medical terms into laymen's terms. The results of the studies were as follows:
• Reduced the overall cesarean rate by 50%
• Reduced the length of labor by 25%
• Reduced oxytocin use by 40%
• Reduced the use of pain medication by 30%
• Reduced forceps deliveries by 40%
• Reduced requests for epidural pain medication by 60%
• Reduced incidences of maternal fever
• Reduced the number of days newborns spent in NICU (neo-natal infant care unit)
• Reduced the amount of septic workups performed on newborns
• Resulted in higher rates of breastfeeding
• Resulted in more positive maternal assessments of maternal confidence
• Resulted in more positive maternal assessments of maternal and newborn health
• Resulted in decreased rates of postpartum depression
Klaus and Kennel speculate that the mere presence of a Doula had a beneficial effect on the emotional state of the mother, resulting in a decrease in catecholamines (adrenaline). This relaxed state allows uterine contractions to be more effective and reduces the occurrence of compromised uterine blood flow.



Susie: How do Doulas differ from Midwives?

Alicia: Doulas are non-clinical whereas Midwives are clinically qualified.

Dayle: Often times Midwives are busy making notes on the mother’s chart, checking the mother for dilation, her blood pressure, listening to fetal heart tones, etc. Doulas are not involved in any of these tasks, which allows the Doula to only focus on the mothers needs. Having a Doula as part of your birth team ensures that no matter what takes place during labor and delivery the mother always has the emotional and physical support she needs to cope.


Susie: For what period of time are Doulas' services generally required?

Alicia: Prenatal period and Postnatal (a few weeks) are popular choices for mothers and families.

Dayle: I encourage mothers to contact me early in their pregnancies. This allows us to get to know each other, as birth is a very intimate experience. However most mothers do not begin looking for a Doula until they are in their third trimester, and that's fine too. Once the mother has chosen to hire me, I'm there for her until after she delivers. I usually have one follow up visit with the mother around 2 weeks postpartum to help answer any questions the mother may be having and to provide resources.


Susie: How do fathers generally feel about the presence of Doulas?

Dayle: Overall the response from fathers is overwhelmingly positive! For those fathers who choose to take an active role in helping his wife cope with labor, I usually take a back seat role, offering suggestions to the father on how he can support his wife, and giving him a break when needed. For those fathers who are squeamish about childbirth or do not wish to participate for cultural reasons, they are usually relieved to know that their wife is being well cared for and looked after.

Alicia: Doulas lessen the stress of fathers during birth. A big stress for many partners is feeling they need to support the mother during the birth and advocate for her, while at the same time, the father has as many emotional needs and worries as the mother has. Also, the hospital environment can be intimidating itself, with nurses walking in and out, and the doctor usually not being around to answer many questions. Fathers end up with a positive experience and a feeling of being there to support his wife during birth thus strengthening the bond between the couple. It is common for dads to ‘chicken out’ as they feel too much stress on them and the couple ends up opting for a mother or sister to be present during the mother’s delivery, thus leaving the father to be totally out of the picture.



Susie: What other services do you offer?

Alicia: A unique part of the services is I offer through Your True Nature is a Complete online Birth Education Course. This is an amazing and truly empowering self paced course with unique content ranging from natural birth techniques, breathing, natural healing, prenatal yoga, etc. In the Kingdom, we lack prenatal education options through hospitals, and have a shortage of trained instructors, thus, this is an ideal solution for many. This e-course is practical for internet savvy mothers who lack access to classes, support and information such as books or are living in remote areas. There are a total of 7 Modules. More information is available at: http://yourtruenature1.wordpress.com/courses-and-education/Doula-services/distance-support-Doula-service/

Dayle: I've just started a new Facebook group caled "Caring Moms of Saudi Arabia" for mothers who can network with one another to help each other through difficult times. The idea for this group came to me when I heard from a friend who had recently given birth and was struggling to care for her three small kids all by herself. She needs a caring Mom to come bring her a few meals and to help out with her kids so she can take a nap. Most expat mothers in KSA don't have their family close by to help out and are very isolated. This way we can be a support system for each other, both physically and emotionally and fill that void.

Susie: Where can women find out more information about your services and how can they contact you?

Dayle: My website is - http://jeddahdoula.webs.com/
And my Email is - dayle.valenzuela@yahoo.com

Alicia: Here’s my website - http://ytnature.com/
and here’s my Email - essentialfitra@yahoo.ca

Susie: Thank you both so much for taking the time to answer these questions. It’s been enlightening.

Thanks also to my friend Kacy, who gave me permission to use these beautiful photos of her handsome baby boy Mazen for this special post.

Honk for Saudi Women


Upload your own "Honk for Saudi Women" video to YouTube and then email the URL to: honkforsaudiwomen@gmail.com - make some noise by honking for Saudi women!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Manal Speaks

Thirty-two year-old Manal al-Sharif was released from a women's detention facility in Al Khobar a few days ago, after spending about ten days behind bars. She would not have been arrested or been the subject of worldwide news coverage and debate if women were allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. Women are prohibited from driving in this country and must rely on male members of their family to drive them around to work, to shop, or to the doctor. Saudi women who can afford it are forced to employ foreign male drivers or must hire taxis driven by men to take them where they need to go, even though these practises actually violate Islamic law. In Saudi Arabia, unrelated men and women are forbidden from being in alone together in closed company to prevent intimate sexual encounters or inappropriate actions such as kissing, touching, or hugging between men and women who are not married or related to each other.


This Arab News article details her release from jail but what is even more interesting and distressing are the ignorant comments in response to the article from those who are against women driving in KSA. While the majority of comments express total support for Manal and for the rights of the women of Saudi Arabia, those against reveal the backward mentality of the minority who wish to keep Saudi women shut in at home under man's control.

The following is the English translation of Manal Al-Sharif's statement on release from detention. I can only wonder about the sincerity of these words and feel that Manal was coerced into making this statement as a condition of her release...

I would first and foremost like to express my profound gratitude to our leaders, in particular the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, for ordering my release from detention, a gesture that does not come as a surprise knowing the King’s benevolence toward his sons and daughters in this honorable country.

Concerning the topic of women’s driving, I will leave it up to our Leader in whose discretion I entirely trust, to weigh the pros and cons and reach a decision that will take into consideration the best interests of the People, while also being pleasing to Allah, and in line with Divine Law.

On this happy occasion, I would also like to affirm that never in my life had I been anything beside a Muslim, Saudi woman who aspires to remain in God’s good graces and to safeguard the reputation of our beloved country. And I will continue to uphold these values and principles until the day I meet my Creator whose compassion, and King Abdullah’s big heart, has helped me to persevere through my short-lived ordeal.

That said, I was stunned to learn of the accusations hurled at my religious and moral beliefs especially that they originated from individuals I least expected to go down that route. I held my breath for those speaking in the name of religion and others-May Allah guide them rightly-to do me some justice, and that if I had done wrong to blame me only accordingly and fairly, without defaming my faith, creed, and moral system. For at the end of the day I’m everyone’s sister and daughter. Yet how could they wound their sister and daughter with such charges? From the bottom of my heart though I beseech Allah to shower on them his forgiveness for the serious harm they’ve caused me.

Furthermore, I must point out I do not authorize any individual to speak on my behalf or put words in my mouth, whatever their personal agenda.

Finally, I pray for the Lord’s mercy and forgiveness. He is Most Compassionate, Most Merciful.

Translated by Zaki Safar (@safarzo)

May 30, 2011