Friday, November 8, 2013

A Queen, but..."


Photo by:  Areej Adel Albagshy

I can't tell you how many times I have heard from Saudi men how spoiled women in Saudi Arabia are or how Saudi women are treated like queens.  It perturbs me.  On the one hand, yes - most Saudi women do not work outside the home and most have maids to do the housework and raise their kids.  Yes, many Saudi women have drivers and many routinely shop until they drop.

But on the other side of the coin is a much darker truth.  Women have drivers because they are not allowed to drive in this country.  You might think having a driver is luxurious and desirable, but waiting around for three hours for a driver to come and pick you up (as often happens) to take you back home in the wee hours of the morning is not luxurious or desirable.  Many times I have seen little boys - whose ages aren't even in the double digits - driving here, often with a carload of Saudi women in the back seat. 
Photo by:  Areej Adel Albagshy
Domestic violence is rampant here and largely unreported.  Abused women are most often returned directly to their abuser, who is also the woman's legal guardian all of her life.  Under the guardianship system, Saudi women have the legal status of children, unable to travel, marry, attend school, or even to seek medical attention in some cases without the consent of their guardians. 

Women at malls and other public places are also regularly harassed by Saudi men and for the most part, Saudi men continue to get away with this bad behavior.  What’s really annoying is that the blame is always placed on women, even though women are the ones who are being harassed.  But no matter what, in this society, it always seems to be the women’s fault.  

Recently it was announced that taking photos and videos in public might be prohibited because of privacy issues.  Because of all the instantaneous viral videos exposing bad behavior on the internet, apparently the Saudi government seems to wish to protect the abusers in these situations and would be, in fact, encouraging such abuse to continue and go unpunished. If this ban is enforced, it would mean that anyone videotaping and posting unacceptable behavior might run the risk of being imprisoned.

Photo by:  Areej Adel Albagshy
One young Saudi female photographer is bringing the plight of Saudi women to light in her own personal way.  Areej Albagshy recently presented her work in her first photo exhibition in the U.S. called “A Queen, but…”  This project highlights issues Saudi women face such as the driving problem, women’s rights, and domestic abuse through photography, stressing the irony of how Saudi women are viewed as queens in this society when the reality is quite different.

CLICK HERE for the link to Areej Albagshy's "A Queen, but..." photos.

16 comments:

  1. I lived in a North African country for a while, and though conditions there are significantly different than in Saudi Arabia, I also heard the comment, "the woman is a Queen in the home". This comment was also perturbing because the homes referred to were ones where women worked entirely in the home and also had little say in the way their lives ran. The influence they had in the home came down to subtle manipulations of the males of the household, who controlled most every aspect of it. Women's lives ran smoothly, as long as their first priority was taking care of the men's needs. This is not really the way a true queen lives, in my mind. I am proud of you for sharing the inconsistencies you see in the culture you are living in, and of the photographer of this new exhibit for sharing it in a very graphic way as well. This is what it will take to help others understand that women in this Kingdom (not Queendom) are not living royally yet.

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    1. At least the word is getting out there. Social media continues to play an important role in bringing the outside world to this previously pretty isolated society, and vice versa. Hopefully with that will come change.

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  2. When I lived in Saudi in the eighties, a local doctor told me that "Saudi women are experts on the types of drugs and chemicals needed to commit suicide." When I asked him what he meant, he said that they shared knowledge of which ones washed out of the system quickly, and which ones couldn't be rid of. I also had a discussion with a man who declared that "women were always whining, complaining, no matter what men did for them. I asked him if men were doing such a bang-up job taking care of themd, why were they always in tears?

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    1. I know that the rate of depression among Saudis, in particular women, is quite high.

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  3. I'm curious how this is received in KSA. Has she had any exhibitions there? Would I be wrong to think that Saudis might not be happy with her for 'airing their dirty laundry' to the West? Does she live in KSA?

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    1. Hi Lynn - I am not sure if Areej has had any exhibitions in KSA yet or not. And I would imagine that there are Saudis who are probably not happy about her photographs. She is currently studying in the U.S.

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  4. I am always glad to see you post about these issues, sad that they are happening, and worried for you and others.

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  5. Hi Ms. Susie. I am glad you are brave enough to share your thoughts and let your voice be heard. I have been living here in Jeddah for a year and a half now and honestly, I still have not adjusted well enough to feel comfortable roaming around the "safest" places outside the comforts of my so called second home. If not for the need of going to the supermarket, I'd definitely stay indoors as I've experienced being stared at (in a rude way) and being addressed in a language which thankfully I can't understand. Taking note that I'm draped in an enormous black clothing I could pass as a ninja. My work flies me into places outside the kingdom, where I get my doses of freedom. But when I'm back here, I definitely stay safe inside as to guard myself from any kind of abuse I may attract for being a woman.

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  6. Hey Susie...these are familiar stories and I still don't know how you do it.

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    1. Hi Lori - Getting the word out there about these issues is how I can contribute. Great to hear from you!

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  7. Wouldn't it be something if all the women in the kingdom went on strike for one day? Would it make a difference?

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    1. Hi Shana's Mom - An interesting idea... I'm sure in some familes it would make a difference.

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  8. I am sure Saudi society works well for a minority of women, in particular those in well off families and those who have a more conservative temperament. Only a minority in any country are well off enough to hire driver just for them. Saudi conservatives somehow think there is a Western conspiracy to promote women driving. In truth the only people who really care are those in the news business who love to print stories about backward Saudi Arabia. I will note that even though the other gulf states have almost equally conservative approaches to religion they let their ladies drive, so they aren't as much fun to talk about.

    The Saudis are only hurting themselves and providing a good laugh for foreigners. Keep it up Saudis we need someone to feel superior too!

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  9. There is a good article here on the subject: http://www.ecfr.eu/blog/entry/saudi_women_drivers_the_red_light_that_never_changes about women's driving. I hope the author is wrong.

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  10. Thanks for your blog. I'm moved to Qatar where situation is different but it so helpful to understand what's happening in the "neighborhood!
    Actually everyone should know it

    http://bonjourchiara.blogspot.com

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