Saudi Women

Women Driving in Saudi Arabia وأخيراً بنسوق في السعودية

It was just a regular Tuesday night until I heard the news! I was at an art show in London when I noticed the stream of what's app messages begin to pop up on my phone. King Salman orders driving licenses for women in the kingdom. I read that and I was like: "yah right!" I didn't believe it. It was only last year when I attempted to go around the corner in my dad's car just to see how it feels to drive in Saudi. It was only for 5 minutes in my dad's presence. The excitement and the fear were a strange mix. 

Then the messages continued from my female family members confirming that it's true!! Women are now allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. My eyes widened and immediately started looking it up online in disbelief! It is TRUE! All the major news outlets have reported it: Saudi Arabia to allow women to obtain driving licences. Immediately thought, how good Saudi life will become without drivers and all their hassle. Having a driver takes 40% of the Saudi woman's wages! According to AlMadinah newspaper, There are 1038 Million drivers in Saudi, which is 60% of domestic works in the Saudi Kingdom. It costs the Saudi families 25 Billion Saudi Riyals annually to have drivers!! In addition to the high financial costs, it's road safety. Last year (1437 Hijri), 5334 thousand accidents happened and 45% of them were caused by a foreign driver. 70% of those drivers are not even aware of the driving rules in Saudi!  

In 2013, I wrote that one of the big issues women face in Saudi is not being able to drive because it restricts their mobility therefore their freedom. I am happy about  Saudi Arabia's major milestone and the amazing step our King Salman took towards the future! This move goes perfectly with the 2030 Saudi vision. The Saudi vision wants to include more women in the work market and change the percentage from the current 22% to over 30%. So, giving women their right of movement will surly encourage them to be more active in society.  
Now, I can see the Saudi vision becoming a reality! 

Read: Saudi Issues: Women Driving
Read: Saudi Women's Biggest Issue
That time I got in my dad's car for few minutes! 

That time I got in my dad's car for few minutes! 

Get this book from Amazon 

Get this book from Amazon 

In 2010, Saudi females became vocal about the need to be allowed to drive. Saudi women activists such as Manal AlSharif, have been advocates for women driving in Saudi for the past seven years! Other females have also been fighting towards the cause and even risking jail time.

Manal wrote about her journey in her Daring to Drive book on Amazon. She also *just* released her Arabic book "Driving towards freedom" that is hot off the press in time for the very happy news! 


Why is women-driving in Saudi Arabia a huge accomplishment?  

First, let me tell you something about the reality of mobility in Saudi. Saudi Arabia does not have a public transports system and Saudi women have to rely heavily on being driven around by male relatives or foreign drivers that have been brought to Saudi for this purpose alone. There are also no pedestrian crossings, so she cannot even go walking across the street not to mention that Saudi heat doesn't help either. Saudi women have three choices: to beg a male relative to go basically anywhere, to bring a driver from abroad and pay ridiculous amount of money and/or use Careem or Uber (taxi apps), which weren't cheap either! But now hopefully things will change! 

Saudi women can finally take care of themselves without the mercy of a man. A Saudi woman can *FINALLY* get herself to university, work and even the grocery store. She can get her kids to school or to the hospital or other places! Saudi women can feel safe in their own cars rather than feel uneasy with all these random men that are NEEDED if the woman wants to step out of the house. 

Read: 15 Facts About Saudi Women

Having a driver in Saudi is NOT the solution for three reasons:  

  • Costs
    Bringing a foreign worker to become your driver in Saudi costs a fortune and is such a pain because you pay a fee to bring them, then take them to do all the medical checks. You also need to give him a salary, a car and a place to live! Not to mention that some drivers don't care about the car they are given and end up recking it so badly! So, the costs always keep on increasing!  
  • Safety
    After all, this driver is "imported" from his country without a criminal check or real behaviour analysis. Some can be dangerous and some women feel so unsafe, but their need to get to work or to get their kids to school outweighs that fear for their safety. Saying that, a lot of the drivers are decent people that have been with some families for years, but that's not always the case. 
  • Cultural difference
    Drivers in Saudi usually come from less fortunate countries: India, Indonesia, Philippines and other places. They have a different culture and a different language. A lot of the times there are clashes with the drivers because of their behaviour or their reaction to Saudi behaviour. Not to mention that the language barrier could cause many problems. 
I Believe I Can Drive - Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving
Women Driving in Saudi Arabia

I have to admit though that the jokes and the memes about driving makes the news even better! I have been chuckling at my phone the whole day! But putting jokes aside, what's next? This change is not going to take place over night and this change will take a while. The male dominant Saudi society will have to get used to it, families will have to make different arrangements and so on. It will take affect on 24th of June 2018, which will hopefully give everyone time to sort everything out and be ready to drive! 

15 Facts About Saudi Women

15 Facts About Saudi Women

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.   

(Read: Saudi Women's Biggest Issue). 

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. 

(Read: Saudi Issues: Women Driving). 

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). 

(Read: Saudi Women Travelling The World). 

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! :)

More Posts about Saudi Women:

Dare to be a Shia in Saudi, Qudaih Massacre

Yesterday, as I was painting in my geometry class, I got an unusual amount of what's app messages that filled the family groups. I could not believe it when I read the messages. A mosque in Qudaih village, twenty minutes drive from my city in Saudi was bombed! For a second my brain could not comprehend it. How could such thing happen in Saudi? One of the safest countries, but it did not only happen, but it caused 21 martyrs and over 80 injured people. 

I usually refrain from writing about politics and religion because they usually lead to useless debates, arguments and a whole load of negative emotions. For instance, I am no longer friends with the people I had really heated debates with, but today I have to speak up and write something. The event of Qatif bombing hit too close to home. I know the world has been filled with bloodshed and sadness and every time I read something similar anywhere else in the world, it pains me, but this pain is even stronger. The fact that the bombing happened in a village very close to my city makes it even worse. My grandfather our only supporter, May God protect him and prolong his life, goes to pray in the mosque daily. What if it happened where he prays? I cannot even stomach the thought. I fail to imagine the pain the daughters, the wives and the mothers are going through after the death of their loved ones. My tears fell over the youngest martyr's mother. Her pain must be greater than anyone else with her little child taken away from her so young right after his kindergarten graduation.  

What breaks my heart the most is that the Qudaih village has seen death before. Sixteen years ago it lost a bride a little girl and 75 other women and caused more than 400 injuries in a horrible fire accident. Lots of children became orphans that year. In that time, it was normal for people to hold weddings in big air conditioned tents. Unfortunately, an electrical spark caused a huge fire. The previous king, King Abdullah RIP, built a wedding hall for the city to stop people from holding weddings in tents. He gave the mangement and proceeds to the city's charity. Yesterday, that same wedding hall was used to treat the injured from the mosque bombing. An orphan girl who lost her mother and sisters in that tragic fire, lost her husband in yesterday's bombing. She is now left with her own little orphans. How can a heart bare all this pain and loss? Life is hard as it is and adding killings and wars makes it even worse.     

Sadly, the Qatif bombing was not the first attack of its kind. The start of this Arabic year, Muharam/November 2014, eight Shias were killed in a religious centre in Hasa, also in the eastern Province of Saudi by a gunman who came in during the remembrance of  Imam Hussain, the prophet's grandson. Real actions were not really taken against that terror. The person who did it -supposedly- got captured and we did not hear much about it afterwards. What is ironic is that yesterday marked the birth anniversary of Imam Hussain and more people were killed remembering him.  

ISIS claimed the attack as their own. To be honest, I am really upset that everyone refers to them as the "Islamic State." I know they gave themselves the names, but I am going to start calling them SS the Satanic State. That is what they are. Devils and demons causing deaths and spreading hate and anger. It makes my blood boil, when Islam is associated with evil or blamed for evil. It is a really peaceful religion with a book that has life guidelines and stories. It is just easy to take things out of contexts and turn it to something it is not. Religion is not to blame, but people and their dark hearts and greed should be held responsible. 

Part of me is not even surprised this happened. Especially, after all the negative fulling against the Shia in Yemen. In addition, the whole religious educational system in Saudi condemns the Shia practice. We have been taught in schools for twelve years that anything but Wahhabisim is wrong. The bombing that happened is just the materialisation of the written word we studied and memorised. The Saudi school theology books told us that Shias are nonbelievers, grave worshipers and deserve to be burnt in hellfire. When we studied that -as Shia kids- we did not care, we were in content with ourselves and our practice. Their drilling did not deteriorate us from the path we were born into and later chosen.  It is foolish to blame "exterior forces" when the problem has been growing over the years in Saudi where day after day Shias kept getting bad mouthed in all possible ways.

This blog post is not to drive a wedge between Shias and Sunnies or accuse Sunnies. I am a big believer in Muslim unity whatever they choose to practice. I have many wonderful sunni friends that I love dearly. This is a post about expressing my disappointment towards what happened and to share the Shia struggle caused by the Wahhabi group. Positive steps should be taken after this. Shias should be accepted worldwide because even if people disagree with how they practice they should let God be the judge. Encouraging Shia killings should be considered a crime. In fact, encouraging killing should always be a crime. 

May God protect us and guide us all to unity, love and creativity. 

Mosque Wreck after the bombing

Mosque Wreck after the bombing

Blood and broken glass in the place of prayer  by the Saudi Photographer Hussain Al Redwan, known as Alwalaee. 

Blood and broken glass in the place of prayer by the Saudi Photographer Hussain Al Redwan, known as Alwalaee. 

Qatif Bombing Martyrs

Qatif Bombing Martyrs

Youngest Qatif Martyr

Youngest Qatif Martyr

Prepping the group graves for the 20 martyrs 

Prepping the group graves for the 20 martyrs 

Caption above says: 16 years ago, I have seen the same thing happens in the Qudiah cemetery after the fire event and now here it is again. 

Caption above says: 16 years ago, I have seen the same thing happens in the Qudiah cemetery after the fire event and now here it is again. 

Qudaih Cemetery

Qudaih Cemetery

My Big Fat Saudi Wedding

Happy Sunday! 

It's finally Spring and that means Wedding season is upon us. A lot of couples have tied the knot already over the Easter break, but in Saudi, most weddings happen in the Summer vacation. I know it gets crazy hot, but keep in mind it's the prefect time because people are off and everywhere is air conditioned, so no heat to be worried about.

I was just speaking to few friends from different nationalities and it was interesting to hear about the wedding traditions of their cultures and I thought it's time to share the Saudi ones with the world! :D I know I should have done a post about spouse selection and dating first, but oh well, weddings are more exciting! ;) and those posts will soon follow. 

I know what you are thinking, Saudi weddings must mean a big splurge, but that's not always the case. We have weddings on budgets too it all depends on what the couple and their family decide. We even have collective wedding festivals to help a number of young couples get married in a very affordable manner. Whether it is a fancy wedding or one on a budget, it is still BIG BIG hence the title and nop it's not mine! The number of attendees is not the thing that makes a wedding costly, but other things such as the location, space decor, level of served food and other festivities.  

Weddings in Saudi are segregated. Women have their own weddings and men have theirs. The groom does make an appearance at the lady's hall by the end of the wedding. This is how it goes. The wedding starts about 9pm and guests start arriving from 10-11pm or even later depending on how much they want to see. Some only come to fulfil their social duty, make an appearance and leave. Guests are usually dressed up and the level of dressing up depends on the relation to the bride or groom. For instance, if you are the braid's sister or close cousin you are expected to almost match the fanciness of the braid herself minus the dress colour of course. Since wedding are segregated, women do not have to wear their head covers and modest clothing, so hair and makeup are all done. Few years back, the trend was so much makeup with crazy designs, but these days it's the "naturally glamorous" look. Straight hair is usually the preferred style most girls go for, but hair dos are still kind of trendy. Usually, the braid's and the groom's family will be the one who have them done. When guests arrive, they usually leave their camera phones in a lockers before entering the main wedding hall. Most close family members do not need to do that. This is just a precaution so women's uncovered pictures don't get publicised. 

At the start of the wedding, there is a lady's band singing Arabic tunes and playing drums. High end bands have more musical instruments and a proper singer. It is usually super load in wedding halls. Guests just start entertaining themselves with dancing away on the stage or with sitting on the chairs/sofas chatting. The bride enters (between 11:30 and 1am, although many brides are doing it earlier these days). When the bride enters she comes in accompanied by her mother, aunts, sisters and cousins. Sometimes, they just wait for her on the end of the stage. Then she gets photographed and sits on the stage, where everyone goes on the stage to congratulate her. A little bit later, the buffet is opened. When most people head there, the groom usually enters with the braid's father and brother. If there are women remaining in the hall, they just cover up.        

Overall, Saudi weddings are so much fun and they are a great place to catch up with friends, dance till your feet hurt and eat loads :D 

Budget Weddings: Open invite, moderate location of a big guest room or a hall as a part of a local farm, regular band and packed meals.    

Fancy Wedding: Invites, in a hotel, high end band and a buffet. 

Note: I am describing the weddings of Eastern Saudi. All Saudi weddings are fairly similar, but there few additions depending on each area. 

The photos below were taken at my friend's wedding back in January *MashAllah*. She chose a beautiful hotel to host the guests and these are few photos of the entrance, the wedding hall, the chocolates and coffee we got served, the bride's stage and the dinner buffet! :) 

Feel free to share your Saudi wedding experiences in the comments! :) 

Saudi Beauty Standards

Yesterday, I spent three painful hours in a laser hair removal appointment at the local clinic. Through the burning sensation, the irritated skin and the gushes of cold air, I realised that women have to endure so much! Forget all the cultural baggage and the social issues and let's focus on how much physical pain Saudi ladies -all ladies worldwide in fact- need to go through to be "pretty." Saudi is no different from the UK, the US and the rest of the countries, where the majority have the weirdest sense of beauty. Saudi ladies are undergoing lots of media pressure as well. I think impossible beauty standards are a universal problem. Most people here -men and women- are obsessed with Kim Kardashian, Haifa Wehbe, Nancy Ajram, Myriam Fares and few others and their hard to achieve physique. 

You might think Saudi women are just covered and are not concerned about any of that, but you are mistaken. The covering part is only outside when the ladies are on the streets, but indoors, where non related men are not present, those ladies wear whatever they please. A Saudi woman wants to look fabulous for herself first and for most then she wants to impress her friends, relatives and future suiters like every other girl in the world. 

There is a pressure for a certain type of body like the ones above, skinny with a flat tummy and curves all at the same time, skin that is flawless, hairless, soft as baby's butt and a long luscious *preferably* straight hair. Not to mention the face's features as well, where a small, skinny nose, high cheekbones and full lips are preferred. You see how hard women have it. Obviously not everyone can achieve all of that, so everyone here has gone for the hairless smooth skin, straight hair, contoured face option and even then it is still hard. Wanting to be pretty is every girl's dream including Saudi girls.          

It's a whole package that women want to achieve because that is what the media feed them. I am not above it all and I am as pressured by the media as anyone else. There was a time of my life where I was in complete content with everything I was, but everyone around me at that time saw differently. Sometimes people think they are being helpful when they make comments on someone's hair and body. It didn't take me long to go to that insecure place that I am trying so hard to take myself out of.  

Of course having a wonderful personality and other good characteristics is crucial, but having the look helps the confidence go a long way. Hopefully, we will be able to focus on the inner beauty as much as we care about the outer.    

More posts from Saudi:

Saudis & Michelle Obama

With the death of King Abdullah –RIP- many royalties, presidents and important people came to mourn the king and attend his funeral. From those people who showed up were the Obamas and man oh man the news just went crazy. The past two days I read more article about Michael Obama and her “stand” to keep her head uncovered than about the king’s death. It was really funny to see how people reacted to the way she chose to dress in the Kingdom. The funniest part was reading about that "imaginary" outrage Saudis felt towards the matter. I did not even realise it was a big deal and I am Saudi! The amount of articles that made her sound like a heroine for standing up there without a headscarf were really weird. The tweets were even weirder especially the ones about equality. The media really made it sound like she liberated the “poor oppressed Saudi women.” 

Do not get me wrong. I loved what the first lady was wearing and I really want that outfit by the way my only objection was how the media made it all sound, which is another sign why we shouldn’t follow media blindly because they found a whole propaganda out of nothing because Saudis truly did not care. No Saudi I knew had anything negative nor positive to say about it . In fact, 99% of Saudi were too busy wondering if they are going to get two salaries as a gift from the new king than anything else. The normal Saudi man and woman were indiffrent to the whole thing. Saudis did not even notice it as something weird because news flash she was not the only one without a headscarf there -notice the other lady in the photo above- and nor the first. Let's take a look down memory lane for a second. 

Saudis & Michelle Obama
Saudi King
Saudi King With Clinton
Saudi King

Yes it surly happened previously, lots of times and it was never a "thing" to speak of. The whole topic is extremely pointless. 

Which brings me to the whole messed up view of the headscarf. Part of me doesn’t even believe that I am posting about this discussion. This topic should have been resolved years ago under “people are free to wear whatever they want within reason” and one fabric placed on the head or the lack of is seriously not that big of a deal for anyone to get outraged about. We have more important matters to attend to, say world peace for example? 

More on the matter: