This paper was written by a college student who attends Georgia University. Considering that American Bedu blog is among his resources and references which he used to gather information, I thought it would be interesting and worthwhile to share with readers of my blog.
English Paper – A Woman’s Life in Saudi Arabia
A Woman’s Life in Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a Middle Eastern country that holds a large portion of the world’s oil reserves. It is the birthplace of Islam that contains the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The country is ruled by a king, and the laws of the nation are set by the holy book of Islam, the Quran. Saudi Arabia is an ally of the United States, and was a host country to US troops during and after the First Gulf War. It is a dry country, meaning no alcohol is allowed in the country, and harsh penalties come to those who smuggle alcohol or drugs in (CIA). Although all this is true about Saudi Arabia, a definition of the country alone is not appropriate to learn about it. To do that, one must study the people and the choices that they can make in their lifetime.
The people in Saudi Arabia have many options in life, though some are limited to men of a high social class. The country has become a battleground for women’s rights and government reform. Society has begun to change as the globalization of society increases through international relations and internet contact. These changes face resistance by the government and the societal norms set by the Muslim religion, which requires modesty for women. The modesty, by Western standards, is an extreme control over women and the lives that they may be allowed to lead.
Many changes are opposed by the Muslim clerics, who use the Quran as a basis of control over the country. The clerics have a great influence over the country because Saudi Arabia has many elements of a theocracy, so Islamic law is also national law. Every law in Saudi Arabia has been derived from Quran verses that are strictly interpreted by the clerics, often without considering historical precedents. Clerics encourage men to beat their wives to keep them in line with what the husbands want (Fox). The clerics also comment on the social ‘calamities’ of other nations and decisions on Islam. The clerics condemned an Egyptian official in 2006 after he expressed nostalgia for the past when women could freely go in public without covering themselves with scarves (Cleric Condemns). Women’s sports have remained largely unavailable because of the requirement to stay covered in public and not take part in strenuous activity. A women’s soccer match, the first of its kind, was held January 22, 2008. No men were allowed in, even if they were related to a player (Al-Maeena). In the past, women were generally not allowed to play sports at all. One blogger states that she believes the game was played to show that Saudi Arabia is becoming friendlier towards women’s sports to appease the Olympic Committee and Western nations (Jawhar).
The internet is an important medium for change in Saudi Arabia. Although not everyone is for the changes being pushed for society, many Saudis do want the change and are able to express their views by creating blogs. Bloggers risk being imprisoned for what they say on the internet, but they continue because it increases global awareness of their problems and is a way to speak with others that share their feelings in a safer environment than actual contact (Al-Omran). The people hope for change in their society that will allow for a better country for their children when the next generation takes over.
Women’s rights are an important topic on many Saudi blogs, both by men and women. Many of the issues mirror those of other countries, including the United States. Both countries have a situation where women aren’t as well paid as men, and women aren’t the breadwinners nearly as often as men. Some of the issues, such as creating women’s sports and increasing women’s education, have also become a major point of debate. Because some of the changes in women’s rights were only made a generation ago, the US people should be able to understand the difficulty and need for changes in Saudi society. Other problems, however, were changed in the Western nations so long ago that very few people remember the changes, so it seems as though things have always been the way that they are.
Many issues facing women in Saudi Arabia are unique to Arab and Islamic nations. The Quran, the holy book of Islam, has been interpreted in a manner that many consider to be unfair to women. The Women are often not allowed to leave their homes without a male guardian, and, in those cases, must rely on a male family member to take them to work or anywhere else they may want or need to go. Saudi officials only recently announced that women may get the privilege to drive later this year. At the moment, women must either have a father, brother, or husband drive them if they do not have a driver. If they have someone to drive them, they still need written permission from their male guardian to travel. Women have also only recently been given the right to sell lingerie at retailers after complaints with having to buy it from men (La Guardia). All of these constraints are trivial when compared to the fact that many Saudi marriages are arranged by a bride’s parents. Many brides will not know or will barely know the man that they are about to marry (Bedu).
Globalization has done more than increased women’s sports and allowed them to speak out. It has also flooded the market with Western news, movies, games, and books. This provides the Saudis with information on what stereotypes we have about them, and it provides them Hollywood cinema-style stereotypes about us to them (Lulu). Although much of the media can provide a bad or false idea of what the US is like, some of it can provide understanding of the American culture. Music often uses a common routine or theme that many people can relate to. Even without understanding the words, people can often understand the emotion of a composer by listening to his music.
With the many emerging technologies that allow Saudis to live much like Americans through, it is only a matter of time before the underground life becomes the norm. Bluetooth has allowed men and women to communicate to each other without being conspicuous. Television and movies introduce Western ideas into the culture. Men and women throughout Saudi Arabia are finding other ways to communicate without arousing the suspicion of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, an organization that can detain and press charges on individuals who they believe is violating Sharia law. Although no cultures completely embrace outside influence, it does slowly affect the way of life for everyone. Those influences are what will help women loosen their restraints and help remove their segregation from men in society. Women have several basic choices that they can make in their life, if their male guardian allows them to make their own decisions. They can become a part of the growing female workforce, continue their education, or become the stereotypical stay-at-home woman that keeps the family and home together. A recent study found that only sixteen percent of women are currently working in Saudi Arabia (Mubarak). There are, however, many female students getting higher education in the country. With the higher education comes the possibility of more and better jobs for women. The only thing that women really need now is time to take advantage of the changes in the outlook and execution of society. They are inexperienced workers because of they have had on them, and will eventually become more prominent in the workplace with better working skills.
If I were in the same situation as most Saudi women, I believe that I would try and find my place in the business world. Although women are not as well paid or as common in the workplace, they are very important to the Saudi economy, especially since the number of working women in Saudi Arabia is constantly rising. Working would allow for a lifestyle of some independence, although one should never rule out marriage and raising a family. A sexist husband, however, would have no place in the life of a modern woman, nor would kids at the early stages of education and marriage (Ubergirl87). A husband that does not respect his wife’s happiness cannot say that he truly cares for her well being, and it would be counterproductive toward the advancement of women.
In order to lead a happy life, one would not only have to work, learn, and be able to make their own decisions, one must also be active in what they believe in. A successful Saudi woman should not take her success and enjoy it herself, but would have to show the benefits of her hard work and fight for the rights of others. Blogging with information about how to be successful in hopes of other women doing the same, as well as being an activist for the rights of others, would be the only way to lead a full life. Sharing one’s profession could be compared to having children. For many families, it means a continuation of what someone has worked for and wants others to carry on what they have done. That same principle carries over to women in the workforce. The fruit of one’s labor is not the money gained by work, it is the experience in life and the ability to bring change and equality for others.
So now the question is simple: why do I believe that the right choice of a life for me? Why should I take a risk in going into business, why should I risk getting arrested for being critical of the government? The answer can be given by the historical Jewish scholar, Hillel, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” The literal meaning of the quote is quite easy to understand. No one will stand for you if you don’t, but you should not stand only for yourself. And if you don’t do it immediately, it is unlikely that you will ever start. The execution of the quote, however, is much harder than understanding it. It is easy to get caught into the trap of being for oneself. It is even easier to just go about your life without stepping on anyone’s toes and follow the societal norms. The problem is that injustice will continue, and one’s life will continue to be miserable because the conditions are not favorable. Although no one wants to risk getting in trouble for standing up for themselves, no one wants to lead a life that is controlled almost completely by the decisions of others.
Now that the Saudi people have started to demand changes, and they do so in a peaceful manner, it is only a matter of time before the changes are met. The blog Saudijeans has compared the segregation of men and women to the US segregation of blacks and whites half a century ago. Saudis can only push forward from where they are now, and continue to take up more jobs and study harder. The only thing that can truly stop the movement toward freedom is indifference and acceptance of what they already have, because change is only earned through perseverance through hardship. As long as they hold their heads high and continue to peacefully question authority, then the day when women are considered equals to men in society and can make their own choices is not far ahead.
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