Like all Saudi women I appreciate the efforts by American and European human rights organizations to protect us from bad Saudi men and to help grant us the freedom we deserve. Without the help of Americans and Europeans my life would have no future.
Okay, I’m lying.
If Western do-gooders minded their own business I’d be a pretty happy girl.
The same goes for the Kuwaiti media. Kuwaiti journalists apparently have ripped a page from the Western “Save the Oppressed Saudi Woman” handbook and now want to rescue us poor little lambs from the wolves. In this case, Kuwaiti newspapers and websites are criticizing the male organizers of the Janadriya Festival for “exploiting” Saudi women and engaging in “unethical behavior.”
Ouf! According to the Kuwaitis, women Janadriya Festival workers just fell off the camel in Riyadh following a long journey from Sakakah. The only women who are exploited are women who want to be exploited. And I’m pretty darn sure that the Riyadh ladies and desert village girls can take care of themselves. They probably have a few suggestions for journalists offering to save them.
According to festival organizers, three women committees were involved in helping stage the event: a media and protocol committee chaired by Lubna Al-Ajami, a cultural committed headed by Jawahir Al-Abdul Aal, and the education and upbringing committee supervised by Iqbal Al-Arfaj. Not for a second would these committee chairwomen stand for any hanky-panky when working with their male counterparts.
Typically, the Arab media are not specific in their allegations, providing only hints and vague allegations, which cast a dark cloud over the event and leaves the meaning of these charges to the imagination of the reader.
The festival is not just any festival, but Saudi Arabia’s cultural and heritage festival with craft and culinary exhibitions, camel races, national folklore dances, poetry readings, art and theater. If I was asked to participate and I was available, I would be proud to serve in the festival and proud to serve my country. Most women I know would jump at the chance to be part of it. In recent years, stronger family
participation has become more common as segregation rules have been eased a bit.
This unnecessary scrutiny based on unfounded allegations hurts more than helps Saudi women and the family-oriented atmosphere. The last thing festival organizers need is to second guess themselves at next year’s festival planning meetings and scale back female participation for fear of external criticism.
I resent the fact that outsiders, whether they are our Gulf neighbors, or some well-meaning but ignorant Westerner, telling us what is best for Saudi women. Criticism of this sort doesn’t bring Saudi women closer to gender equity but endangers what we have already accomplished.
The other night I visited the Red Sea Mall in Jeddah. On the first floor was an exhibit on Islam that appeared to be organized and run by Saudi girls no more than 18 years old. The exhibition was designed to attract the young Saudi generation by offering a view in a modern context of science combined with the teachings of the Holy Qur’an. Young men and women viewed the exhibits and discussed Islam in a respectful way. On the second floor was a small exhibit offering sales literature on a personal hygiene product. A number of young women, wearing uniforms instead of abayas, were working alongside young men giving sales pitches to passersby. On the top floor young women were running their own clothing and accessories shops.
It’s refreshing to see these young girls take charge of their future and get out and meet the public. I was particularly impressed with the mobile Dawa center where these young ladies, speaking almost perfect accentless English, handed out reading materials to men and women and answered questions about Islam.
Are these young women being exploited? Is there even the danger of exploitation? Of course not. We as a society offer tremendous education opportunities to Saudi women, although we are not quite committed to giving them jobs. After all, only 14 percent of the Saudi workforce consists of Saudi women.
Yet when we make the effort to allow these women greater opportunities, whether its selling deodorant or clothing, we not only get a little nervous, we have malgoofs (nosy people) who complain that these girls are being exposed to blackmail and exploitation. If it’s not our Gulf neighbors worrying about the safety of Saudi women, it’s the West saying selling deodorant is not good enough and they should be selling cars, or whatever big ticket item, instead.
Here’s a tip for the complainers: Saudi women are doing just fine and making progress on their own. Find someone else to rescue.