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.