Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Metaphorically speaking, if any group of people in the world epitomizes the West African proverb "Speak softly and carry a big stick," which was popularized by Teddy Roosevelt, it is the women of the GCC countries.

If you have any doubt about the power, the resourcefulness, the drive, or the motivation of Middle Eastern women, then you must watch this video.  It is truly awe-inspiring and quashes any doubts about the quiet strength and determination of Arab women.

Focusing on being positive, the importance of education, and achieving one's goals and dreams, WEORITU is an independent youth initiative promoting female empowerment in the Middle East.  The above video called #WECANDOIT is one of their first projects.

There are plans in 2016 to release the full interviews of the women who participated in the above video, relating their inspiring stories about their achievements and challenges they overcame to make their marks on the world.  

Another undertaking of the group is a photography exhibit called the Inside Out Project, featuring portraits of over 70 amazing Arab women who are making a difference in their communities and setting great examples for the younger generation.  The photo project is part of a world wide art challenge spawned from French artist JR who explains the Inside Out Project in this interesting and inspiring TED Talk, whose mission is to change the world through art.  After watching the video, I can see that he is well on his way to achieving his goal. 

Photo from WEORITU.org

In 2014 the group also produced the video #HAPPYQ8 - which features the upbeat world phenomenon song by Pharrell Williams.  

With all the negativity in the world today, I really appreciate this group of motivated young people and their efforts to spread positivity.  If you are in the position where you can contribute monetarily to assist in their mission, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Current Art Exhibitions Now in Jeddah

Now through February 9th, there are a couple of art events that are open to the public going on for those of you in Jeddah.  I hope that you are able to attend these two exhibitions, which are open each evening from 5:00pm-10:00pm.  Both venues are fairly close to each other off of Tahlia Street, so it is possible to go to both events in one evening.

Artwork on display at Al Khayyat Center for Fine Art (Photo by Vicki Callagan)

The first event called "Art for All and All for Art" is being held at the beautiful and ritzy Al Khayyat Center, which houses such famous upscale designers like Dolce & Gabbana, Etoile, Fendi, Tom Ford, Stella McCartney, Roberto Cavalli, Christian Louboutin, Versace, Valentino, Tory Burch, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Armani, and many more.  This place is the Rodeo Drive of Jeddah.   Enter through the "Main Entrance" for the event (across from Louboutin) and take the elevator up to the 3rd floor. 

Here you will be treated to a variety of artworks by an array of amazing artists - sculptures, paintings, collages, photographs, Anime, live demonstrations, and more.  Many of the artists are on hand to talk to about their art.  There are even two incredible Dali sculptures on display.  Interesting and graceful bronze and wooden sculptures by Bahraini artist Fuad Ali Albinfalah are definitely worth a look.

A stylized Dali sculpture of an elephant at Al Khayyat Center
One of the exhibits on display at the Al Khayyat Center is called "Western Women's Journeys in Saudi Arabia" by photographer Abeer Bajandouh, which features photographs and and book of interviews with twelve Western women who are living in Saudi Arabia. And I am one of them! 

I am in front of photo of me holding my US Passport and holding a copy of the book (photo by Vicki Callagan)
The second event is being held nearby at the lovely Saudi Center for Fine Art (, which is located directly behind Noujoud Center from Tahlia Street.  They are closed Friday, but also open in mornings.  Nojoud Center houses Wojooh, Cortefiel, Mango, Adidas, H&M, and other shops.  This exhibition features the works of two artists, Tamara Jones and Awad Abu Salah.  Tamara is an American artist and a personal friend of mine who has been living in Saudi Arabia for the last four years.  She paints and also does amazing digital photography which reflects nature and has a very earthy quality to it.

Artist Tamara Jones in front of two of her paintings on exhibit at Saudi Center for Fine Art

I highly recommend if you are in Jeddah to make the effort to attend these two wonderful exhibitions, running now through February 9th. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Gender Segregation is Insulting!

Few things about life here in Saudi Arabia get me all riled up like the extreme gender segregation does.  It is one of the things that I dislike the most and one of the things that I feel does WAY more harm than good.

In my opinion, gender segregation is largely responsible for many of this country's social problems.  Gender segregation stunts healthy emotional growth.  The high divorce rate can be cited as a problem partially caused by gender segregation.  At puberty young boys and girls are suddenly separated socially from each other and there is no interaction with the opposite sex.  As a result many young people who marry do not know how to communicate, act or behave around the opposite sex.

Photo Credit: RealSociology.edublogs.org

Many young Saudi men are often accused of harassing women - and it's directly due to the way this society is set up with severe gender segregation, plus the lack of accountability for men and their actions.  Instead, this society usually chooses to put the blame on women by punishing them for men not being able to control themselves around fitna-inducing temptresses.

At the university level, young female students often fantasize, become obsessed with, and even fall in love with male professors who conduct classes for women from a remote location via closed circuit television.  I’ve heard many stories about how female students frequently pursue these male professors, who are often married, much older, and not even particularly attractive.

And now the latest issue regarding gender segregation has come about involving two women who were elected to the municipal council in Jeddah.  These women were elected to their positions, just like the men on the council were.  Yet there is an anti-women crusade going on to prevent these women from taking their rightful positions on the council alongside their male colleagues.  

This faction is trying to preclude these duly elected female officials from participating effectively on the council, marginalizing the women by forcing them to sit outside the council chambers, like children who are being punished, instead of full-fledged elected members of the board. 
Seriously? Women in Saudi Arabia achieved a major milestone when they were allowed to vote and run for public office for the first time in their lives in December 2015 - a HUGE step forward for Saudi women.  But now others are trying to prevent them from effectively carrying out their duties.  Gender segregation carried to such an extreme like this is not only insulting to the women, it is extremely insulting to the men on the council who are being perceived as incapable of being trusted or of controlling themselves around a couple of female colleagues and incapable of seeing women as anything other than sexual objects. 

To make matters worse and to exemplify the severity of this extreme gender segregation, the two councilwomen, Lama Al-Suleiman and Rasha Hefzi, have now received death threats for attempting to take their rightful place at the meetings.  Fortunately there has been support for the women from the community, but there are some who oppose them.  
Don’t miss these two articulate opinion pieces recently written by a couple of Saudi women about this very subject:

“Saudi Women’s Work and Challenges in the Council Just Starting” by Maha Akeel

“Women’s Empowerment” by Nabeela Husni Mahjoub