Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Video on CCTV America: Saudi women protest against ban on women drivers

One of the faces of the women's driving movement, Samia El-Moslimany, answers questions in the video above on CCTV America. 

The women's driving issue here in Saudi Arabia continues to remain in the forefront of the news.  Women across the country continue to defy the ban.  Some have been detained, while others have driven without any problems.

One thing is clear:  the women are not backing down.  With the expulsion of thousands of undocumented foreign male drivers from Saudi Arabia this year, there is a driver shortage.  With more and more Saudi women entering the work force, transportation issues for women have become more than just a mere inconvenience.

I would love to see the Saudi men of this country forbidden to drive for just one week and see how they like it.  Maybe then more of them would be more sympathetic and supportive to the cause instead of being more concerned about relinquishing the control this driving ban gives them over women. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Just for Laughs - Lost in Translation

One of the most amusing aspects of living in a foreign country is the written word - business signage, menus, misspellings, or translations into English.  Here is a variety of funny pics, some taken by me and others that found their way to me, that will hopefully make you laugh out loud.

Business sign:  "Sale of Chicken Murder" - no other words necessary

Menu item:  "Itch Salad" - Does that come with calamine dressing?

Men's perfume packaging:  "One Men Show"

Signage on mall escalator:  "Be aware of you're abaya and children"

Advertising billboard: "Laser Vaginal Rejuvenation Clinic" - a popular service in Saudi Arabia?

In a mall:  "No Smoking" sign - with ash tray below

On the wall in a restaurant: Listing cities around the world - see Madrid on the bottom line

Handicapped parking sign in Saudi Arabia:  "If you want to take my parking, take my disability"

Business sign:  "Cock Brost"

Meat department in grocery store:  "Boneless Lamp" and "Lamp Meat."  Photo credit: April Tosch Jamjoon

Meat department in grocery store:  "Chicken Tights"

Friday, December 13, 2013

Queens? I Think Not, says young Saudi Woman

Saudi women have never had much of a voice in this country.  I've actually been told many times that I should keep my mouth closed in the presence of other men because they shouldn't hear my voice.  Some Islamic scholars actually include a woman's voice as part of a woman's awrah, the parts of a woman that should be covered from others, which is usually considered to be everything but her hands and face. 

But as more and more Saudi women attain their education and travel the world, they have found their voice.  Fatima Al-Mohsin is a 19-year-old university student in the Eastern Province of KSA who wrote the following article that was recently published in the SaudiGazette.  I think she speaks for a growing number of Saudi women who are dissatisfied and want more for themselves, their sisters, and their daughters.

Disadvantaged Saudi women, yet they call us “queens”

They tell us we are too delicate to drive cars, too precious to travel alone, too pretty to play rough sports. We are “queens” who have been deprived of the right to make our own decisions. Have you ever heard of a “queen” without authority?  Well, they exist in Saudi Arabia.

Research has found Saudi Arabia to have one of the highest levels of gender discrimination in the world. Women are not granted mobility; they cannot drive cars and cannot travel without a male guardian’s permission. There are also very few women in powerful positions in Saudi Arabia.

The gender gap in Saudi Arabia is uncomfortably large. Men not only have the freedom to travel and move without being questioned, but essentially everything in our society encourages men to succeed, yet puts the success of every woman in the hands of a man.  This gender discrimination is unfair. We can see that women are just as capable of being successful as men if they are given a fair chance. All human beings should have the right to live up to their own potential, and gender should not be a determining factor for this right.  

Photo by Areej Albagshy

One of the most basic and obvious differences between the rights of men and women in Saudi Arabia is mobility. Women are required to get the permission of their male guardian to study abroad and to travel, and women are banned from driving their own cars. Such rules and restrictions have caused women a lot of problems. These restrictions force them to - like a child - depend on others in order to accomplish what they want to do.

Furthermore, women were absolutely nonexistent in the political organization of Saudi Arabia until 2012 when women were appointed to the Shoura Council. The Shoura Council is the official advisory body of Saudi Arabia. Its members cannot pass or apply laws as they are there to advise the King in making laws for the nation. The Council consists of 150 members appointed by the King. As of last year, women now make up 30 percent of the Council, a move that was applauded around the world.

However, this is not something to be celebrated, but rather something that must be improved. The Shoura Council should more accurately represent the women in Saudi society. According to the World Factbook, Saudi citizens are 54 percent male and 46 percent female. As women make up almost half of society, they should be more accurately represented on the Shoura Council. Considering that women’s rights are in a dire state in the country, it is especially important that their voices are represented in the political realm.

Although it is a well-known fact that women can accomplish great things when given the opportunity, there are still some in Saudi Arabia who believe that women cannot handle powerful positions. One cleric recently stated that women were permitted to work, but not to hold power in a company. If a woman is capable of doing a good job, then it is wrong to refuse her a position simply because of her gender.

These sorts of restrictions on women are absolutely exhausting. We are forced to feel inferior, even though we know we are not.  We do not live the lives of “queens”. There is no need for this oppression to go on. We will not be silenced. I hope the government will address the status of women immediately. 

Fatima Al-Mohsin

— The author is a student at Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd University studying Human Resources. 

The photo used in this post is by a young female Saudi photographer, Areej Albagshy.  You can see more of her work by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Driven: Samia El-Moslimany

On October 26, 2013, Samia El-Moslimany wound up in a police station in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, detained for doing something that she has been doing for some 30 years – driving.  In the 21st Century, women are still not legally allowed to drive in this conservative patriarchal country.  While Saudi Arabia is governed by Islamic/Sharia law, there is nothing in Islam that would prohibit women from driving.  This law is based entirely on culture, customs, and tribal mentality.  

Samia El-Moslimany

The push by women for the right to drive in Saudi Arabia has been making headlines around the world for some time now.   The movement has gained momentum and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down.  October 26 was chosen as the day when women across the country would get behind the wheels of their vehicles and drive – not in an organized caravan as was done in Riyadh in 1990 and wreaking havoc on the lives of the brave women who dared to drive.  Organizing any type of demonstration or movement is strictly forbidden here and violators face harsh punishments. 

This year, dozens of Saudi women have posted videos online of themselves driving.  Samia and more than a dozen other unfortunate female drivers were detained across the country on October 26.  After signing a pledge vowing that they would not drive again in Saudi Arabia until the law changes, most of the detained women were released within just a few short hours to their mahrams, the legal male guardian every Saudi woman has for her entire life.  Overall, Samia was happy with the way she was treated by the police.  

Samia El-Moslimany, photographer

Samia El-Moslimany is a professional photographer and activist who divides her time between homes in Jeddah and the Seattle area.  She first moved to KSA as a new bride of twenty.  That was more than thirty years ago.  Samia has been an active supporter of womens’ rights and is a founder of the Wanisa Sisterhood, which was started to give first wives dignity and assist them to become independent.  Her Twitter account describes her as a "Moderately-Radical-Feminist- Muslim-Saudi-American Photographer Jihading for Peace."  She always ends her emails with "Peace, Love, and Justice - Samia."

Samia is also very active in Islamic causes and will be a speaker at the 2013 Muslim Public Affairs Council convention on December 14 in Long Beach, CA., honored as one of the five finalists in the MPAC’s nationwide search for “innovative American Muslims who are tackling some of the biggest challenges facing the community.”  CLICK HERE to get your tickets to attend the convention and hear Samia speak.

She is truly a force to be reckoned with.

Samia El-Moslimany and me at a charity event in Jeddah, November 2013.

CLICK HERE  to watch a Seattle Times video interview with Samia El-Moslimany (NOV 2013)

CLICK HERE  to read a Seattle Times article on Samia El-Moslimany, "Burien woman driven to fight for Saudi women's rights." (NOV 2013)

CLICK HERE  for the Highline Times article "Samia El-Moslimany of Burien breaks with Muslim stereotypes."  (JAN 2013)

CLICK HERE  for a Saudi Gazette article about photographer Samia El-Moslimany "Being a female photographer in KSA."  (APR 2008)

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Twisted Reality that is Saudi Arabia

I’ve written many times about the confusing contradictions about living here in Saudi Arabia.  Things really haven’t gotten any better - except that women are now employed in sales positions around the country and we women are no longer required to purchase bras and panties from strange perverted men! - and life continues to be as confusing as ever. 

For example, right now, at least one young Saudi man, Bandar Al Swaid, has just spent his 4th night sitting in a jail cell.  His crime?  Following the worldwide feel-good peace and love craze of offering “Free Hugs” to total strangers.  Twenty-one year old Abdulrahman al-Khayyal was also arrested in the conspiracy.  The young men had the audacity to post a video of themselves holding a sign saying “Free Hug” and hugging three men in the Saudi capital city of Riyadh.  They were charged with “violating local laws and engaging in exotic practices.   In another incident, seven young men ranging in age from 16 to 20 were also arrested in Dhahran for carrying a sign that offered "Free Kisses."

While these cases might be considered by many to be the crimes of the century in Saudi Arabia, another Saudi man who posted a video of himself threatening the lives of women who might dare to drive in Saudi Arabia still walks free as a bird here.  Apparently threatening the lives of women here is of no concern to the authorities while giving out free hugs is taken much more seriously. 

Foreign workers in Saudi Arabia have come under attack for “taking jobs away from Saudis” in recent months, and many illegal workers have been deported back to their homelands.  Some of these foreign workers have lived and worked in KSA for decades, doing lowly jobs that most Saudis would never do that are considered beneath them.  Many workers from poorer countries are treated inhumanely, tolerate horrid living conditions, are not paid fair wages, and are even considered slaves in the eyes of many Saudi employers.  Very few are ever granted Saudi citizenship.  Workers’ rights in this country are pretty much non-existent.  Most labor disputes and issues go largely unreported because the outcomes are almost always settled in favor of the Saudi employer. 

However, a Saudi writer, Abdulrahman Al-Zuhayyan, wrote a controversial opinion piece published in the Arab News a few days ago called “Say No to Expats Calling for Saudi Citizenship.”  The 225 comments garnered by the article overwhelmingly disagreed with Al-Zuhayyan’s racist and degrading position.  While Al-Zuhayyan criticizes expat workers for failing to assimilate into Saudi society, the truth is that there is a barrier put up by Saudis preventing assimilation. He also failed to mention that many Saudis have a superiority attitude toward foreign laborers. 

Meanwhile, the women’s driving campaign continues to gain momentum with many women posting videos of themselves behind the wheel.  The campaign has attracted worldwide attention.  Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive and must depend on male drivers to take them places - this in a country with all male drivers and ranking among the highest traffic fatality records in the world.  

So what are the available options for women's transportation here?  Many affluent families have been able to bring in and hire foreign men as drivers for their women.  But now that many drivers have been deported, there is a shortage of drivers.  Other families frequently rely on underaged and unlicensed males in the family to drive the women around.  Some women must rely on taking taxis driven by strangers, but gender mixing is also disallowed in this country, so this is something that is allowed that I just don't get.  Many of the "drivers" brought into the country do not know how to drive, yet women like myself, who have driven safely in other countries for many years, are not permitted to get behind the wheel.  Somehow it is considered safer for a woman to get into a car driven by a little boy or an unrelated man who doesn’t know how to drive than to allow a woman to drive herself.   

At least I don't have to buy my panties from perverted men any more here…