It seems like the world is very curious about Saudi women. In a dinner party last year, I got asked a million questions about the life of a Saudi woman and what she does. When I answered honestly people were shocked and thought I was making it up, but I was not. Saudi women are normal and they strive to better their situation. It's true that Saudi is mostly a male oriented society, but women have been working so hard proving themselves and establishing their place in society and I think now more than ever. I compiled a list of facts about Saudi women just to give you an idea of how life it is back home. Of course there are some different cases, but in my city in the Eastern Province in Saudi these are facts.
1- Saudi Women are educated
Education is a key part of the saudi society because without it you can't go far in life. From the age of 6 girls start going to school to the 12th grade. There isn't even a question here. A girl is born and is enrolled in school as simple as that.
2- Saudi Women are HIGHLY educated
High school diplomas are not even considered education if you don't go to university. The competition is insane to get into university. There are only a handful of public (free) universities in Saudi and because the average Saudi barely makes 30K a year a free education is the best option for everyone. Most of my friends have a masters degree.
3- Saudi Women don't usually leave education when they get married
It's normal for girls to get engaged or married during their university years, but that's a rare reason for leaving education. Most couples wait till after the bachelor's to conceive a child (yes Saudis are familiar with birth control).
4- In fact, they stay in education even after they have a child or two
Sometimes couples want children and after a semester off, the lady goes back to school to finish off her degree. It's not easy, but with family help it works.
5- Saudi Women work
After university, most Saudi ladies would work. The ladies without higher degrees work in shops, which is a new thing that started only few years ago. Prior to that women only had the option to work in hospitals/university/companies and banks, but the work force have expanded. Thankfully, the women in my family are highly achieving. We have four medical doctors, university lectures and an engineer.
6- Saudi Women contribute financially in supporting her family
Life is expensive and a 30k a year average is barley enough to feed a family, so women have to work and participate in supporting the family financially especially for the kids education. Government monthly salaries are a myth. You only get a salary when you work or when you are extremely poor. (Read: Myth One: Saudi the land of the riches).
7- Saudi Women raise their own children
I hear this one a lot, for some reason some of my friends in the West think each Saudi woman has an army of maids to raise their children. That might be the case in rich families, but the average middle class lady raises her own children with the help of her mother and mother in law.
8- Saudi Women don't usually leave their children with maids
There is another myth about Saudi ladies leaving their children with maids to go out. Again, that's not the case for the average lady.
9- Saudi Women can't afford maids
In fact, It's really hard getting an in house maid. It's not like it was 20 years ago. Plus most families can't even afford it.
10- Saudi Women's main road block is the guardian's permission
This is the saddest fact of them all and is basically could make or break the Saudi woman. If the girl has a psycho male guardian or an over protective one, her life will be very hard because the guardian has the power to allow her to study, work, get married and travel. Usually the first two happen as normal like mentioned above, but travel is the major issue. If he (dad/husband/uncle/brother) says no, then good luck.
11- Saudi Women have drivers because they HAVE TO it's not a state of riches
When people hear refer to the family driver, they just assume I am just a rich Saudi, but having a driver is a necessity of life since women themselves aren't allowed to drive. It's also a complete pain getting drivers from abroad and the locals on Uber and Careem (taxi apps) are not cheap.
12- Saudi women study abroad and travel the world
The first part is an increasing fact especially after the King Abdullah's scholarship program in 2005. It used to be taboo for girls going abroad on their own to study, but it has become a normal option in the past ten years. Granted that the female doesn't have a really bad guardian who says no. The travelling part is still new, but Saudi women have started travelling and enjoying themselves. Although when they are slightly older (end of 20s/start of 30s).
13- Saudi Women do arranged marriages differently
Arranged marriages happen in Saudi, but not like what most people imagine. It's not like she knows nothing about the guy and she only sees him on the wedding night. I am sure that happens too, but it's not the norm. Normally, a family will introduce themselves to the girls family to suggest that their son would be a fit for their daughter. There is a whole process after that of getting to know the guy. Kind of like supervised dating. If they hit it off, they get engaged, where they can really get to know each other. If that goes well, they get married. That could take months or years. It depends on the family and the couple.
14- Saudi Women get married for love too
With social media, mixed work environments and education abroad, Saudi women have been able to find men on their own and falling in love. It's becoming more acceptable.
15- Saudi Women take care of themselves and workout.
In the past ten years, Saudi women have made an effort to stay fit and beautiful. Going to the gym and working out is an increasing habit. The gym choices are very limited and are only in a handful hospitals and hotels. The memberships aren't cheap either. It could be 200 GBP a month, but women are working really hard on their bodies. They are even trying to include more sports in education and getting involved in the olympics. This is just the beginning.
It's not always easy for a Saudi woman, but even with the cultural restriction she is making the most out of it. There is room for growth and improvement of course, but she is not locked up at home like most people I meet seem to think! :)