Sunday, April 3, 2011

Saudi Woman's Perspective: Going Back in Time

As an American woman, I certainly don't feel that I can speak on behalf of Saudi women. One of the most articulate and insightful voices coming from within the Kingdom is that of SaudiWoman, a well-traveled and educated Saudi wife and mother. This is her latest post from her blog SaudiWoman ...

These past couple of weeks have convinced me that the government has made a huge scientific discovery, the time machine, and is now using it to pull the whole country back into the eighties. The King’s decrees, which included a generous package for the ultra-conservatives and gave absolute impunity to the senior clerics council from media criticism, were just an indication of what was coming. Since then, it has been made official instead of being just a religious recommendation; women are banned by law from working as cashiers. This was due to a complaint and proposal by sheikh Yusuf Al Ahmed to the Interior Ministry.

A forum, “Women and Development”, on March 13th here in Riyadh called on the authorities to grant women incentives and stipends to encourage them to stay at home, and to push forward early retirement by reducing service to just 15 years. Also they suggested a special system of part time work just for women and to limit their hospital work to women only wards and ER.

The only moderate muttawa in the PVPV, Dr. Ahmed Al Ghamdi, has been relieved of his post as head of the Makkah PVPV division. He was the only PVPV member who stated openly that women are allowed in Islam to not cover their faces and that there is no such thing as extreme gender segregation in Islam. The latter view is also shared and researched in depth by another high official in the ministry of Justice, Shiekh Eissa Al Ghaith.

Yesterday the interior ministry has announced (ambiguously) that over five thousand detainees were released in the past after they repented from terrorism and others are awaiting trial. Why was this statement made now though? Many of those in political prisons in Saudi were arrested because they belonged to the same ultra-conservative group in the eighties and nineties that produced people like Osama Bin Laden. The free ultra-conservatives are currently apolitical and have focused their energy on the safe and easy misogyny trend except when it comes to the matter of their imprisoned brothers. So this statement can be categorized as of more of the aforementioned appeasement of the ultra-conservatives. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s a huge leap forward and I completely support and celebrate their release. Imprisoning anyone without a clear case and fair trial only creates more terrorism. I just hope that the human rights activist Mikhlif Al Shammary would also be released.

Another blast from the past is that women again will be banned from voting. The municipality elections were announced to start on April 23rd and it was confirmed that women will be completely excluded from the process. For a country that states that it’s constitution is the Quran, excluding women does not fit in with the statement; the Prophet (PBUH) and later caliphs took pledges of leadership (very close to the concept of voting) from both women and men. These are the second elections to take place in the kingdom, and the first excluded women too under the pretense that the logistics of including women and avoiding gender mingling would postpone the elections too long. This was six years ago, and all these years obviously have not been enough time to prepare for the impossible task of actually treating women as full citizens.

I prefer to end on a happy note. The Saudi Women Revolution is now a healthy cooing toddler. A group of women headed by one of Saudi’s biggest women rights activists Dr. Hatoon Al Fasi have decided to start their own municipalities parallel to the government’s. If only we would start parallel cities where women can enjoy their full rights, I bet more and more Saudis will want to move there until the parallel becomes the majority and the current status becomes a margin.

Also this video is a actually a collaboration between a multi generational group of Saudi women who prefer to remain anonymous for now but are currently planning and working towards a bigger online presence.

I can’t wait until the women revolution here hits it’s teen growth spurt.

Finally, in case you missed it, the BBC had an excellent video documentary and radio show on Saudi women. I’m featured in both but more so on the radio show.


  1. after watching that bbc video doc:

    Do i find it outraegeous that men serve in lingerie stores? Yes without a doubt i do, having been born and brought up in the west this is crazy and its a gay mans job if anything.
    However most of tht video is typical Western trash, for example the against polygamy?????? Hello there are many spinsters in Saudi + the West have so many men with mistresses and multiple partners. THATS OK?????
    Yes there are problems but it aint all bad-which country is perfect? America certainly isnt anywhere close to it
    How the West loves to make Saudi seem like an oppressive place *rolleyes*

  2. Susie, I am always surprised at the different cultures, and how they treat women. I surely take for granted my rights here in Canada.
    Great blog. Well done.

  3. Nice to hear women will speak out.

    Hope you are well. Hugs!

  4. I liked the video.

    To sweetlikechocolate: no, no country is perfect, but I sure am glad that I live in a country where my individual rights are recognized (whether male or female). I can travel to other countries without a males "permission", I can work, I can drive, I can do so many things as an individual and independent woman. Thanks Susie for sharing!

  5. sweetlikechocolate
    the blog is about Saudi Arabia – not a blog about moral failings of The West .
    I was always shocked when living in Saudi that I saw mothers standing on the street in 50c heat while being ‘measured up’ for clothes . Does a mother not deserve some respect?
    Do you feel that it is right that a Mother who was quite capable of looking after her children is considered incapable of deciding when she may walk out of the house. Or do you feel that a mother can bring up better children if she has no knowledge of the outside world so that a young baby has greater knowledge than she and that she has not separate willpower so that a young baby can force her to give the poison demanded ??
    In The West each generation builds on the shoulders of their parents knowledge so that knowledge increases incrementally , I wonder what knowledge your feel your mother kept at home can contribute to enhance Saudi society – oh to be alive when the oil does run out or The West cuts its dependence on oil .
    Is Saudi not oppressive? Does the population have any say in the running of the country? No? - then they are all oppressed!

  6. Yes maybe you can't speak on behalf of Saudi women but certainly as a human being and as a woman you can speak on behalf of all human being including Saudis and specially Saudi women. That you've been living here for more than 4 years makes you qualified to talk about us. As a Saudi woman I tell that We are eager to get our human rights and dignity but sometimes we just feel that it is something bigger than us I mean it is more than a social complex . Please Susie, would you read this article..

  7. @ Thats what
    Nope I dont think its oppressive :D People make it out as if women are locked up that is totally UNTRUE.
    Just because theres a male and female roles doesnt mean its oppressive. Maybe thats why the family structure is still going strong!

    @ Angel Darling
    dont believe everything you read, try seeing for yourself with an open mind what Saudi is like ;)

  8. I am deeply saddened by this latest regression and the repression of women, Susie. :(

  9. Facts are facts. Thus anyone can speak on behalf of the facts.

    sweetlikechocolate claimed that the "family structure is still going strong!” in Saudi Arabia.


    KSA has the second highest divorce rate in the world, about double that of the US and rising according to statistics often published in Arab News.

    Treating adult women like imbecile children is not exactly equity of gender roles.

    Saudi women will never gain their rights if they do not fight for them because Saudi men, and some women, like the status quo.

  10. A Canadian ReaderApr 6, 2011, 6:40:00 PM

    I inadvertently commented on this post in the Helen Thomas thread. Sorry about that.

    As to what I said, it's short and not so sweet:

    Saudi Arabia is the largest women's prison in the world.

  11. Minerva, i dont know about arabnews but i just searched several sites and in none of them does Saudi Arabia turn up in the top 10 for divorces.

    On a subject of treating women like children-who have spearheaded the 'my guardian knows whats best for me'

  12. Saudi Arabia has some good things going for it, many if you talk to Saudis from middle classes to upper middle classes. But that depends on how good your male family members are right? Most are sweet, and more Islamic than their governments, but not all men are. And the men who aren't? The lives of their women SUCK.

    Go Shiekh Al Ghamdhi! The women of the sahaba worked among men, talked to men when studying and teaching, and to give news. The gender segregation in KSA is BEYOND what Islam calls for.

    I live in Oman. I support Islamic seperation of men and women. That is, in personal matters, and frienships, but not in work and education and government. Alhamdulilah, Oman is an example to how Muslim women are able to function modestly in society within the bounds of shariah and aren't just glorified house decorations.

    To all the working women in Saudi, doctors, teachers, women I know and love, keep at it.

  13. To A Canadian Reader:

    I agree with your comment,posted at 6:40 on April 6th.

    So, why are so many women, primarily reverts, adopting the niqaab, and deciding that Saudi Arabia is where they want to live, moving there, and becoming the plural wife of a married man?

    That's how it looks to me, from blog reading anyway...

  14. According to Arab News and many other reputable sources the divorce rate in KSA is 62%. The divorce rate in the US is estimated at 49% and in Canada it is about 25%.


    Published: Mar 4, 2011 23:20 Updated: Mar 4, 2011 23:20

    JEDDAH: Most Saudi women who got their divorce in the year 2008 were aged between 30 and 34, Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper said, citing an official report released by the Department of General Statistics and Information.

    The daily said 25,403 Saudi women between 30 and 34 years of age were divorced in 2008, followed by 21,430 women aged between 35 and 39.

    The report put the total number of Saudi women who got divorce that year at 128,090, the newspaper said.

    The report also revealed that the majority of 14,589 Saudi men who divorced their wives in 2008 were aged between 40 and 44. It said 63,616 Saudi men aged between 35 and 80 years remain single, and 31,678 of them were aged between 35 and 39 years.

    More than 2,000 men in their 70s or 80s have never got married, according to the report.

    Earlier studies indicated that by 2015, Saudi Arabia will have at least 5 million spinsters.

    The number of divorces is increasing in the Kingdom, with nearly 62 percent of marriages ending in divorce.

  15. OK, Sweet Like Chocolate, about your comment Angel Darling,

    "dont believe everything you read, try seeing for yourself with an open mind what Saudi is like"

    I'll bite. So what is Saudi like, from your standpoint?

  16. Susie,
    You might want to consider deleting the post from Anonymous on April 4th at 11:06. That post didn't feel right to me. I copied the entire text and Googled it, and sure enough, a program is sending it out to hundreds of blogs.

  17. You did not search well enough, sweetlikechocolate. The Saudi divorce rate is scandalous:

    Alarming Divorce Rate Must Be Addressed Urgently

    Given the enormous rise in the divorce rate in the Kingdom the second-highest in the world the head of Jeddahís marriage court, Sheikh Saleh Ahmad Habad, has called for urgent steps to address the issue.

    The court registers 40 marriages and 20 divorces a day...

    ...Polygamy, according to Abdullah Al-Fawzan, a professor and sociologist at King Saud University in Riyadh, is responsible for up to 55 percent of divorces...

    ...The involvement of husbands in illicit relationships is a factor according to 38 percent of divorcees. Since few couples can get to know each other before getting married, the incompatibility and misunderstanding that can arise as a result often lead to separation, Professor Fawzan added...

    Saudi Arabia is already rocked by a high divorce rate that has jumped from 25 per cent to 60 per cent over the past 20 years, according to Noura Al Shamlan, head of the research department at the Centre of University Studies for Girls.

    Women who wish to end troubled marriages find ‘khula’ conditions tough


    If you like being treated like and imbecile child, good for you. Evidently, most Saudi women do not like it! OTOH, perhaps you are married to a wealthy Saudi and are simply too fat, lazy and content in your opulent life to worry about your sisters? Perhaps you are simply one of those loser Western women who could not make it in a free society and just loves being taken care of like a pet?

  18. LOL
    im not a Saudi and definitely not fat ;) and dont have an opulent life. And in my marriage I am not 'taken care of'. Infact I can support myself without money from my husband :P (currently being in the West that is exactly what I'm doing) So dont assume you know anything about me!
    Did you know there are many Western women living and loving Saudi? Ones who have experienced the free West aswell as the 'Prison of Saudi' ...yet they prefer Saudi....any thoughts why?

    On another subject, I think Saudi women do live a 'fat' lifestyle, I think they rely way too much on maids to do work they themselves can do. Ofcourse when half the women have full time maids doing everything, and they sit at home with nothing left to do-then YES youre bound to get bored.

  19. To Saudi Female:
    I skimmed over the text on the link you sent. I read this:

    "Now why doesn’t Obama call for democracy in Saudi Arabia?" and trashed the rest.

    Whose responsibility is it?

  20. To sweetlikechocolate:

    You said: "there are many Western women living and loving Saudi? Ones who have experienced the free West aswell as the 'Prison of Saudi' ...yet they prefer Saudi"

    That is abundantly true. And there are also many women who choose dom-sub relationships, choose prostitution, or choose to be generally miserable for no ostensible gain.

    I interpret this thread to be about government, not personal choices.

  21. Helene: Alot of women I know (Saudi) love Saudi. I lived in a Saudi community in the West. They preferred Saudi for a few reasons.

    A. the closeness of family.
    B. the freedom to be religious and dress in their religious clothing without being harassed. Most opted to forgo the face veil but still loved the rest of their clothing and a few chose still to veil while their husbands worried for their safety.

    These things can weight as more important to Muslim women then things you might think are more important coming from a different perspective. For me, its one of the reasons I moved to the Gulf.

    I will add a personal one,

    C. Work. I can work in more jobs in the GCC as a fully covered woman than I can in the West. Even in Saudi, though idiots limit work for uneducated women. That's sad really, about the West, that I can find more work in KSA, than I can say in Canada.

    WHAT IS BETTER ABOUT UK, USA, AND CANADA (the rest of Europe tends to be more racist and ignorant about freedom and religion):
    a. one can choose to practice or not or how they want to practice. Islam is not a compulsory religion, and there is no reward for people doing things for their government and culture and not just God alone.
    b. The governments generally support Muslim women and men in their rights as a minority (and I pray it always stays so) while Saudi harassses minorities.

    The fact is, because of the weight of the first three benefits, many choose to move to the GCC if they can afford to or are educated enough to get jobs (and if they are poor, they marry) because of the top three points.

    I won't change my mind that Saudi should change all unislamic laws that it has, including Westerners to wear jilbab (abaya), or manadating black as the only Islamic colour, women not to drive, women discouraged or banned from working.... These things are stupid AND suppressive. But calling the country the world's largest women's prison is a bit ignorant. To me, Canada became a prison, because of jobs I could no longer get that I was qualified once I started wearing modest clothing (not even the face veil). And I know Canada is one of the good ones. I pray for Muslim women in Europe, in places like France.