Friday, October 17, 2008

Some Saudis don’t get it

If the needs of Saudi women were written in tall letters on billboards in all major highways from Riyadh to Madina to Jeddah and on all major streets, I’m sure Saudi men would not understand a word of it.

Some men in positions of authority in government and private sectors would feign blindness or play the fool. “What?,” the typical Saudi male would ask. “The needs of Saudi women are simple. Feed them, clothe them, give them a driver, and money to spend at malls. What else do they need?”

I recently spent about two and a half months traveling to and fro between Madina and Jeddah before returning to UK for my studies. If I didn’t know better, I would think that half the Saudi male population is stupid by choice.

I sound a little angry because logic seems to be totally absent from public discussion in Saudi society about Saudi women, who are fast becoming the most important labor resource in the Kingdom.Some ministries do understand and appreciate the value of Saudi women.

There are forward thinking men who want to see women advance in education and the workplace. But for some reason once women reach a point to best use their education, they are told to stay at home, get married and produce enough children to make the family proud.Let’s address the education issue first.

The Ministry of Higher Education reported recently that more women than men are getting selected for scholarships. This year alone, 2,585 women were selected for master’s degree scholarships out of the total 4,779 candidates. Some 86 students out of the total 127 chosen for doctoral degree programs were women. In all, more than 50,000 Saudi men and women are studying abroad in about two dozen countries.

Year in and year out, Saudi women have proved that they are more motivated, more studious and more ambitious to earn a post-graduate degree than Saudi men. At Newcastle University, both Saudi men and women students are dedicated to their studies, but women are more organized and more willing to form study groups with other students of different nationalities and gender.

They are more open-minded about how to best utilize the resources the university has in offer.But what happens after Saudi women successfully obtain post-graduate degrees?She has two options: One, put the degree in the closet and start looking for a husband to raise a family.

If she earns a math degree perhaps it will serve her better when she calculates the grocery bill in her head at the Danube hypermarket or when she buys that Prada bag and the smart jacket that goes with it.

The second option is to teach. I’m sure teaching in a high school or a women’s college will be fulfilling for some, but for many women their eyes would glaze over with boredom at the mere thought of classroom instruction.Both of these options remind me of Victorian era America and England.

If a woman insists on getting a university education it’s only to serve the men in the family by being a gracious host and intelligent conversationalist or because teaching is the only “appropriate” vocation for women.

So here we are at the end of the first decade of the 21st century embracing 19th century Victorian ideals, yet we want to be taken seriously by the international community.All this reminds me of Saudi society’s continuing failure in keeping up its promises to Saudi women.

I’m not talking about the right to drive because that promise is dangled in front of us like a carrot on a stick. Behave, and maybe we will be able to drive a car “some day.”No, I’m talking about the comedy of women not being allowed to work in lingerie shops despite an order passed by the Ministry of Labor two years ago.

For all the trembling fears we Saudis have about gender mixing, we insist on foreign male drivers carting us from one mall to another, we insist on foreign men talking to us about our underwear. If a Saudi male stranger asked a woman her bra size, I’m guessing the sky would fall and the earth would split open. Her brothers would fly into a tizzy and demand the stranger’s head.

Me? I don’t care one way or another, but for the majority of women they rather have females working at lingerie shops. But more importantly, Saudi women want jobs. For those who don’t think that a university education is an option, why not give them the most logical and appropriate job available?Why is it that despite Saudi women continuing to demonstrate their intelligence, our society refuses to employ them in meaningful jobs.

The bottom line is, there is a segment in our society that is blind to progress and equates progress with Western values. We as a society lack the courage to confront these ignorant people to allow us to grow and mature as a country. I wonder just what will it take to for our society to stop tolerating this nonsense.


Ashar said...

Hello Sabria,
Hope you fine. read the article about Saudis don't get.
I know some suadi girls are struggling to get the jobs.
let me salute you for the article. But let me say some points. Education is not only for the Job.
My wife is working to support me here in jeddah to give the high rent and my kids education expenses.
Suadi house owner getting enough money from the rent itself, then why they send the girls to find job.
If i have enough money form my salary I will not send my wife to job. I will utilize my wife's education for my kids.
Kindly let me say my view is not negating your views about the girls education and discrimination in the job market here.
oh.. i am an indian working here..

Kenneth Anthony said...

Good day Sabria,

Excellent article, well written.

I'm a South African national and really enjoyed your article. Hope to read more of your work in future.


sawtauntha said...

That's exactly what I keep saying we are in the 21st century but we're treated just like English Victorian women. And no matter how hard we try to change our situation into a better one we fail cause in this country tradition speaks louder than innovation.

Lost.In.Riyadh© said...

Once again you have excelled and wrote a wonderful article. Sometimes I say it will take time, but I truly believe it will take time and the voice of woman to change how things currently are. (people are blind... but hopefully they are not also deaf ;) )There is still a fear amongst many to speak out. But as long as we have woman with your courage still around, Change will come (enshallah).

Thank you!

Abu Omar said...

Assalaamu alaikum Sabria,

I can read between the lines. Lol. I'm sure in your trip this time, your family must have pressured you to get married, so you have written this :-), ;-P Right?
And when you said, there is no logic in public discussions, you mean all people just talk and base their points on religion. Correct?

Tell me, what do you think women would have achieved with jobs? What is the end result? What is the goal? Satisfaction? Contribution?

Women working is not outright wrong, but Sabria what you are calling for is not completely for women too, in fact the opposite.
An educated woman makes the maximum contribution to society by educating and raising a whole family as responsible and a boon to the society.
Imagine if mothers didn't do that, who will? Who can take the place of mothers?

The west that you see today is a product of years of feminist propaganda that has turned in the negative for women.
Yes we need women in some areas of work. Like we do need female doctors for women, we need female teachers, female staff for areas relating to women.
Such jobs is a collective responsibility of Muslim women (Fard Kifayah),.All women need not take it up, but some must. What is compulsory on every woman is to take care and nurture their family (Fard Ayn). That is the primary duty, all others, whether business or social gatherings are secondary. Just like the primary responsibility of men is to earn bread for his family. All others come secondary.

Do you know today, 8 out 10 working women in the UK would opt to stay at home and leave work if they could afford it? If you don't believe, check the BBC.
Why is this? Women have been forced to work in all types of jobs. They were shown a glamorous image in the media for decades of a superwoman, who works and takes care of family. The glamorous image is nonsense. It has very little reality. It has affected the women more. Today even if women want to leave the job they can't. You know why? More workforce as you call it entered the fields, lesser salaries as supply of labor is more. So now to maintain a family, what earlier one man's salary was enough, today both MUST work. This is part of the reason why women were enticed to behave like men.
The whole call to 'liberate women' and that women can do anything like men, is a call to women to be like men! They are asking you to be what you are not.

Islam is the religion of Allah, the religion of justice. It ordained roles for men and women, understanding that the two are not same. They are different. They have different strengths and different weaknesses.

I have tread the path and have supported western ideology before I came to know about Islam, truly there is nothing like Islam.

Muslim women, the examples you have given, shopping and wasting time.. definitely is not right. They have larger roles and responsibilities than that. Look at the role models who have contributed so much to society. The mothers who encouraged, supported and helped their children to be tall scholars whom we know today.
Have a loot at this article by a Canadian (non-Muslim)
and this one
and you have more articles under Life and Society.

Anonymous said...

hi sab,

you did a good job but i think something some where missing.

write more

Foxxi said...

@abu omar
What role are men playing in maintaining family values in Saudia?
Oh, I forgot, they make the babies ...that's really a heavy workload.

umm Latifa said...

salam alaykum, I am a foreigner married to Saudi. I have been working in my home country before arriving to KSA for 9 years, here after one year of holidays ;-), I gave birth to 2 children... I observe Saudi women who do not want to work and prefer to stay at homes, and those who struggle to earn for the leaving. Also there are those who choose work because they are bored or love financial independence (wow, this is what I miss indeed). Although, I believe a motherhood is an enormous responsibility and the most important job (agreeing with Abu Omar), but I also do believe that WOMEN SHOULD BE GIVEN CHOICES. Let them choose the way they want to run their lives. Make women feel they are valuable members of Saudi state by protecting them first in the light of the law and lastly by letting us drive finally ;-). I like your articles Sabria very much. Ma sha Allah, good work.