What Saudi women can and cannot do

woman_driver_555This will likely be an evolving post and one which I hope will receive input and contributions from readers.  I was recently asked if I could make a list of what Saudi women can and cannot do due to the culture, social, law and religious traditions of the Kingdom. 


For starters, they cannot:


  • Drive (culture, social and legal)
  • Sponsor a non-Saudi husband for residency (iqama) in the Kingdom (legal)
  • Visit a graveyard (although there is debate on this topic) (culture and religious)
  • Attend Friday prayers in a mosque unless there is a women section (there is also debate on this topic) (culture and religious)
  • Be alone with an unrelated man who is not a “sanctioned” relative (father, grandfather, brother, uncle, husband) (culture, social and legal)
  • Travel alone without approval of the male mahrem (culture, social and legal)

What can they do?saudi-woman-pilot

  • Work
  • Have their own bank accounts
  • Have their own businesses
  • Own properties
  • Own businesses
  • Make investments
  • Have their own driver
  • Own a car

 As I said when starting this post, I started some of the issues and now turn it over for readers to add their comments.  I realize this can be a heated topic on which there will likely be diverse views and opinions and ask everyone that we ensure to discuss the issue in a non-confrontational and adult manner which will further understanding of the differing views shared.

100 Responses

  1. do saudi women have access to education?

  2. Hello Bedu!

    I’ve missed you! Haven’t been online much for the past few weeks and just came by a couple of days ago and saw I have so much catching up to do!

    I hope you’re doing great : )

    Excellent post yet again! And a very interesting topic. I believe times are changing and for the better (I’m a pathetic optimist) and so I know the issues women in Saudi have to deal with will change with time as efforts toward progression of the state of the society is underway.

    Not being allowed to visit graveyards is a new one for me. Is that the case if they’re not accompanied by a male mahram or they cannot visit graveyards period?! And if the latter is the case, what religious reasons validate that?

    And in the case of travel, do non-Saudi women married to Saudi men suffer the same?

  3. Tee…Arabs consider women way too emotional and feel that they over do it at graveyards with crying and carrying on…so they are forbidden to go to them. I know there is a hadith or two on the subject but cant think just at this moment about it…but Im fairly sure the hadith doesnt actually forbid women going…just advises them to be less emotional etc. Anyone can correct me if Im mistaken.

    Carol…sponsoring of a Saudi husband…I assumed Saudi women werent even allowed to marry non Saudi men…and if they dare do such a thing…they certainly arent considered married in a halal manner are they…just wondered.

    I might also add that there is in fact no law against women driving in Saudi…its all cultural.

  4. Visit a graveyard (although there is debate on this topic) (culture and religious)

    Some do depending on whic ethic they come from!

  5. KSA applies Sharia Laws. All laws should be referred to the Holy Qur’an, Hadeeths and the practices of the companions ( sahaba ).

    I wonder do the Shoura Council know about The Battle of Jamal ( camel ) when Ummul Mo’mineen mother Ayesha (ra) was riding her vehicle, a camel, which is equal to a car in the now modern day.

  6. warcrimestv – Yes; Saudi women do indeed have access to education and many attend universities not only within the Kingdom but abroad as well. I have a number of Saudi friends whose daughters are presently attending university abroad and enjoying the experience. And I wish to add that there are very good educational programs inside the Kingdom too.

    Tee: regarding non-Saudi women married to Saudis and travel…if the Saudi husband is the sponsor of his wife and it is stated as such on her iqama/visa, then yes, the husband’s permission is required for her to travel outside. Most open-minded husband’s write a “blanket letter” which gives his permission for her to travel at will and have this letter stamped by the Ministry of Interior for authentication.

    coolred – I now know a handful of Saudi women who have non-Saudi husbands. All of these marriages are halal marriages and have received approval of the Saudi government so they can live together (legally) as husband and wife. However in all the cases I know a company or other individual (male) has sponsored the male non-Saudi spouse for his iqama. In other cases the non-Saudi spouse may be an Arab and able to reside in the Kingdom with his nationa id card vice an iqama.

    While driving a car or not is cultural, it is also viewed as a law here; otherwise why would women be apprehended and jailed when attempts to drive have been made?

    Crispy – I’m sure the Shoura Council area aware of the Battle of Jamal.

    Thanks for all the interesting comments. Look forward to more.

  7. ok so I’ll put a damper on this whole issue because the affects of a guardian are far reaching and patheticly restricting for Saudi women.

    1. work- requires the approval of her guaridan. she can not make an individual choice to work

    2. extended education- requires the approval of her guardians and she can not make an individual choice to continue in her education

    3. Education overseas- requires that a mahram accompany her at all times during her education

    4. Ownership with cars, property, buisnesses are also dependent on a mahrams signature. Even the sale of a buisness which a woman may own requires the signature of a male.

    5. A woman can sponsor her foriegn husband but he can not legally work under such sponsorship hence you’ll usually have him sponsored under someone else. Do note that a woman sponsored under her saudi husband can work legally.

    6. Women can not pass on their citizenship to her children or a spouse like a man.

    7. women can not remarry when she has children after the death of her spouse or divorce without the fear of loosing her children. Be it by the ex husband or her dead husbands family members.

    8. A woman requires the signature of a mahram to get her passport and she needs the aid of her mahram to get an id card

    9. women can not determine their own health care, it will be decided by her mahram in what treatment she recieves.

    10. women can not marry w/out the consent of her guardian even if he is being unreasonable in his demands of her choice of a future husband

    11. foriegn women who are married to saudis and that saudi dies will not be able to leave the country with her children for her inlaws can stop her and take the children

    12. a foriegn women who is divorced by her saudi husband will have to fight tooth and nail to stay in the country if he tries to bully her out. she will also loose custody of her children

    13. saudi children’s medical care is not determined by the mother, it is the father who has the say unless she is a widow. even then the extended family can over ride her choices for her children

    14. women who own businesses that serve the general public can not work in her own store unless it is a womans only business. She must hire someone else to serve her customers.

    15.. do I really need to go on??

    with all of this and all the foriegn voices screaming for women to drive as if this is the factor which will settle the gender issues in this country I say get real. Driving isn’t a major concern considering what a woman does not have power over in this country. And even if women do drive here (which they will the plan is in the works within the next two years) she will not be able to make a choice on her own to drive or not. A saudi woman will need the approval of her mahram.

  8. You raise very good points. I wish to note that while “technically” a mahrem is “supposed” to accompany a woman who is studying abroad, in many cases there are loopholes to this rule and the Saudi woman will be without a full time resident mahrem.

    While all these factors and issues may sound barbaric to those of us raised in different cultures, I do not believe it is our place to judge. It is really up to the Saudi women to speak out if they are not happy with the regulations imposed. For many Saudi women, they like that the mahrem takes care and watches over them.

    At least in regards to the US, there is an agreement in place now between KSA and USA that American women married to Saudis (and subsequent children) are not to be restricted in travel. How enforceable is it, I do not know.

    Nevertheless, as pointed out by your comments Nzingha, one should never ever under estimate the role and influence of the mahrem whether one is a Saudi woman or a foreign wife of a Saudi.

  9. Quite an interesting topic, Carol. Just a small correction. I think there is no law which says that women cannot drive. It is more to do with the culture and is a social issue.

  10. They can be commercial pilots, like Hanadi Hindi

  11. Just got back from vacation and noticed your new banner. It is an outstanding piece of art!! Could you please tell me about the artist and whether his/her works are available for sale?
    Very interesting topic… am most curious to see how the Saudi women feel about the restrictions imposed on women. I am frequently surprised to find that not everyone shares my view of the world. Thus, what I would regard as unreasonable or even unacceptable could be seen by someone growing up in this culture as perfectly “normal”.

  12. bedu- if a girl is recieving aid from the saudi government and is found out she has no mahram with her she looses it and most rely on the aid. However, men don’t face that hurdle when studying abroad. I spoke recently how this restricts the options of Mr. Mans niece whose mother wanted her to study abroad. But after reminding her fo the limitations had to surrunder to the fact it isn’t a feasible option.

    While yes some saudi women have no issue with the way saudi is run. We have all seen the petitions from women telling the king not to let women drive. We have seen the voices of those opposed to standardizing rules to sexual harassment in the work place. It is a fact that most saudi women will hinder the abilities of other saudi women due to their cultural views. However even if there are opposing voices to more freedoms and easing up restrictions on women in this society they shouldn’t keep to such limitations. One can easily CHOOSE not to study abroad without a mahram.. one can’t choose the opposite. One can choose not to work for herself, the opposite doesn’t hold true.

    Yes saudi women must choose their own futures, they must set the process of change to how they want it to be. However the question is if the voice of opposition to change should continue to limit women. Even if it is a womans voice, it still hinders other women and leaves them with no choice the same as if it were a male doing it.

    And yes I do believe we have a right and a duty to judge. You and I Carol live in this society, our extended families suffer from restrictions. My girls may marry Saudis and be restricted to the point where it harms them. Mr. Mans neice is restricted by her husband to the point where she is dying from kidney disease. Another neice had her own children kidnaped from her estranged husband out of her mothers house in front my kids and no one could help her. My SIL will never remarry out of fear of loosing her chidren.. and the list goes on to the absurdity of it all.. and yes I judge, yes I call it as it is wrong and a harm to Saudi women. I do suggest one leaves the option open if you choose to restrict yourself so be it, but for the goverment to restrict women to the point where it is harmful for them and an injustice than the goernment should change it.

    yea some issues I’ll stand on my soap box.. this is one of them:)

    Aafke- remember that Hanadi Hindi flies because a man allows her. She recieved pilot instruction because a man allowed her. If she didn’t have the permission from her supportive family, she wouldn’t be flying a private jet:)

  13. Nzingha – read my earlier comment carefully. I chose my words deliberately. While women are supposed to have a mahrem while studying abroad, you might be surprised by the numbers which do not… of course the majority do and that is what’s required…but not always followed.

    I can relate to your words Nzingha but here is where we may agree to disagree slightly. Until or if I have a Saudi passport, I’m probably not going to be a vocal activist in this regard. I would never impede what Saudi women do or do not want but believe THEY have to be the ones to speak up about it and put actions in motion for reforms…not we westerners whether we live here or not.

  14. Nzingha, you are right, she has been sponsored and ”allowed” to learn for a pilot’s licence, and was very lucky at that.
    But what I meant is that she can ”do” it. She had to learn for herself, and it’s a big curriculum, and a responsible job! And there is no way you can fake it; once you’re up there with the controls of a jet in your hands, you can’t fake ability!

    She is not too stupid, or too emotional, or too flighty to be able to do a very serious, responsible and difficult job, and I thought that needed to be mentioned: Saudi women are not stupid, deficient or backward in any way, they are only held back by all the creepy restrictions you mentioned. (and your last comment really sent the shivers down my back!)

  15. Aafke…I can just see your next post now…

    Saudi Women are NOT Stupid, They are Only held back by Fearful Men….

  16. I doubt women will be able to Drive in Saudi Arabia in the near future. Allowing half of the population to hold the wheel for the first time all of the sudden will create havoc. If change will happen, hopefully it will be gradual and effective to train everybody how to deal with it.

    I certainly hope we rely less on private cars in the future myself. Maybe some more effective transportation infrastructure. I still hope I can ride a bullet train to Taif from Al Ahsa one day for the weekend.

  17. Carol…women are made to suffer “legally” for daring to drive because they must be made an example for having the nerve to go up against culture and male authority…but Im willing to swear that there is no law forbidding women to drive…Ive read that many times.

    The same way as there is no actual law regarding quite a few “legal” matters…and yet women are still made to suffer as if there are…simply because its a man’s world and women are just objects for men to use at will.

    I agree with Nazingha whole heartedly…if we are married into that society and our children will be made to suffer from it in some way or another…then our soap boxes can never be too high or too vocal.

  18. I can’t say…perhaps I would be more vocal if my husband and I had children together.

  19. Nzingha, I have to stress about guardian approval of work. I don’t think its the institutes trying to restrict women, but it’s rather the opposite. The approval is a requirement in my establishment because it will help us avoid domestic disputes. Because of the issue of Mahram and what not.. maybe a dispute between a husband and a father of a female employee can bring untold consequences.

    The absence of a national ID for females for all this time, with extreme conservative/traditionalist views created this environment. It doesn’t have to be a legal issue.. but it does have it’s restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia. It doesn’t have to be something derived from the religion.. but it’s still will be restricted to some people.

    For example some families will never allow a man to see the women he proposes to until after the wedding. While its clear that the prophet approves that the man must be able to see his potential wife, of course there are restrictions for example insuring that the man is actually serious in his proposal. This is something that Sharia approves of, along with consent of the women who are asked for marriage.. but you don’t see some people following Sharia and instead they are following their own view of customs “orf”.

  20. Bedu- I read your comment:) I’m pointing out that women, unlike men, loose their scholarshipis if they are found with no mahram. She is taking a chance that will affect her education if she stays with no mahram. And yes they do check.

    And perhaps it is because i have children within this culture that I’m more vocal. Or perhaps i just see it as a wrong and abhore that my fellow women are limited simply due to their womb. While I don’t believe it is up to the western world to define the role of Saudi women. I do believe there needs to be as much voice, be it western or saudi, within this culture that should be shouting from the roof tops. A saudi passport shouldn’t be an indicator if one is vocal on this issue or not. Although I fully acknowledge that saudi women have to do the work I can only stand with them.

    coolred- there is no law that says a woman can not drive. In fact one of the criticisms from the more restrictive was that the new regulations regarding driving issues was gender mutual and left the door open to apply to women drivers.

    DW- Once the woman is married her father has no say it is up to her husband. So a father can approve of her working, than a husband comes around and says nope you can’t work and she can’t work any longer. I don’t see how it is protective when it gives the choice of a woman over to a man. He decides for her if she can or can not and at any point in time he can revoke his approval and the woman will not be working. Such basic choices of life aren’t given to saudi women, or wives of saudis. That is what I take issue with.

    Aslo there are moves in the making to introduce women to driving. It is supposedly planned out region by region, the Western region being one of the first.. although I think the Eastern province is where they should be starting.. I’ll drive and teach every saudi woman I know to drive:). But there is a womans driving school in jeddah, there are also some women in jeddah driving already and no one is bothering them.

    Now the restrictions the woman has to be 35 and older and have the approval of her guardian. See the mans word rules over the woman once again.

  21. […] American Bedu starts a list of what Saudi women can and can not do. Posted by Deborah Ann Dilley  Print Version Share This […]

  22. (To the ladies married to Saudis):
    – Did you know about all of these details that might affect you or your kids one day, before you got married?

  23. Reminds me very much of the Puritans early on in American history. So if a Saudi women wants to marry a non-Saudi man, is it required that he convert to Islam if he is non-Muslim?

  24. Under Sharia, in a court of law,a women’s word is weighted as equql to one-half of a man’s. This makes it very difficult for a women to prevent and protect herself from absue and victimization (along with her children) and prevents her from enforcing her rights.
    I agree, we can’t speak for Saudi women, but who speaks for the children?

  25. A few things. I know from first hand experience that whilst it is required for females to have a mehram whilst studying abroad, it is a rule that is often broken.

    My wife, and two SILs got their degrees studying abroad on the Saudi scholarship, and none of them had a mehram at the time.

    As a matter of fact, I have known more than a few Saudi females studying here in the USA who have their mehram fly in once a year when they report to the Embassy.

    The reason is twofold. First to satisfy the rule that a female abroad has a mehram. It is a rule, but it is broken by many and openly. Second, when a female has a mehram on the scholarship she also gets a lot more per month for her monthly stipend. The difference is around $1,000 a month tax free.

    Besides, it gives the chance for the Saudi female student’s brother, uncle or father to come over and do some shopping.


    You stated that all of the marriages you know of where a Saudi woman is married to a non Saudi are recognised by the Saudi government. I would think you need to qualify that with “living in the Kingdom”.

    Of course I am a western convert married to a Saudi woman and our marriage is NOT recognised. It goes without saying that all Saudi women, living in Saudi married to non Saudis, would have their marriage recognised. If it wasnt, they couldnt live there.

    It is not an easy thing getting such a marriage recognised. If you have the money to pay the bribes, or can use the system of corruption known as “wasta” you have a shot. Without it………….sit and enjoy the wait.

    Of course such a requirement is not mandated by Islam, it actually goes against Islam. But, like in many cases in Saudi, culture and the insecurity and weakness of Saudi men trumps Islam and the Prophet.

    Back to the Islamic law idea, Saudi Arabia follows a version of Sharia law, mixed together with tribal and social law. That is why it so often loooks so different from The Qur’an and the Sunnah.

  26. Solo,

    It is an Islamic requirement that Muslim women must marry Muslim men. So if a Muslim woman wants to marry a man he must be a Muslim. That is not a Saudi requirement.

    Where the Saudis deviate from Islam in this situation is requiring an outside approval for a marriage that is completely legal and halal in Islam.

    So basically the Saudi officials are putting themselves in a position to make something forbidden which Islam, the Prophet, and ultimately God, has okayed. They are putting their laws and customs above the laws of God.

  27. 1stbite – from private emails I have received, many women who meet and marry their husbands outside of Saudi Arabia may very well not be aware or have a clue about the regulations imposed in the Kingdom in regards to the power of the mahrem.

    Abu Sinan – You are right — the Saudi women I know with non-Saudi spouses are in the Kingdom with governmental approval. I am aware of a few marriages, to include yours, of the non-Saudi spouse married to a Saudi female living outside of the Kingdom and the marriage has not yet been approved.

  28. After reading Nzingha’s list you get the idea that dogs have more rights in America than women have in Saudi.

    Someone said if the women didn’t like it they could protest and get it changed but isn’t it true that men in Saudi are allowed to murder any woman at any time just by saying she wasn’t being a good Muslim?

  29. Candide – First of all, welcome to the blog. And in response to your query, No; noone can murder anyone in Saudi Arabia simply by saying he or she was not a good Muslim.

    In regards to what women can and cannot do, I want to hear the views of the Saudi women who I know read and follow this blog. And I also ask of the Saudi women whether they believe the West is too interfering on the rights of Saudi women?

  30. Thank you Carol for your reply. I thought so too!

  31. I hope that through my blog more women who do find themselves contemplating life with a Saudi will be better apprised of the culture, rules and regulations of life within Saudi Arabia.

  32. […] investments. Commenters are asked to add to the list and debate the reasoning behind the rules. [American Bedu via Global […]

  33. candide 33- as Carol already stated one can’t just kill another, even a woman, and claim some right because he/she wasn’t a good muslim.

    And it should also be pointed out that ‘protesting’ is illegal in Saudi. Women are working for change, it is slow going and the focus is on various issues. While some are concerned with driving, others are more concerned with access to courts, rights in divorce, protection from forced marriages, more opportunities in the work force ect.

    Change overall in saudi goes at a snails pace so this isn’t really just related to gender issues.

  34. Though I am stunned that there is a perception that other people in other cultures in otherplaces in the world are so inhumane that one person can kill another so arbitrarily, unfortunately this view of Muslims is not uncommon. Last night I was looking through some of the comments in my local paper and this same exact idea was posted-that Muslim/Arab men can kill a woman so readily.

  35. I was just wondering how it is allowed for a Saudi woman to have a driver when that driver is an unrelated male and she is “alone” with him?

  36. lovefrom1stbite- But some of us who married saudis do know. My husband and i talked about it all the time before we got married and even up until i came here. (by the way, I AM IN SAUDI NOW!!!! and SSSOOOO loving it actually. Now if i can just get MIL to teach me more arabic i would really be comfortable.) oh yeah, and for those who didnt know, I am the girl who was posting and suddenly shut down her site. Not going to be reopening it, but i thought i would remind people of who i am since i havent been here in a while.

  37. […] What Saudi women can and cannot do [American Bedu] […]

  38. It’s great to read such a thoughtful blog, with people actually debating/talking, and not e-screaming at each other! I think the question of whether it is useful or right for us to make judgments on a culture outside our own is one everyone who is exposed to another culture faces at some point. It’s obviously very complicated. As a Western woman, I am appalled by the idea of having to consult a male relative about my life choices. I also understand that that perspective comes from a being raised in a culture where female independence is valued. I completely agree that Saudi women must lead any change towards equality. Still I can’t help but wonder how much the culture of being dependent on male relatives to make life decisions affects a woman’s ability to take on and speak out against her government and culture – a difficult and brave task for any human. For those of you who live in KSA, how do you think the culture responds to women who speak out against these practices?
    First and foremost, I think it would be great, as American Bedu said, to have some Saudi women’s voices in this conversation. I also wonder is there a way to look at the situation of Saudi women in a way that everyone agrees on – regardless of our opinion of judging other cultures? For example, I wonder what are the objective effects of these systems – do women tend to die earlier than men, or are they more likely to die from treatable diseases? Are women who become widows, etc likely to live in poverty? Although I don’t think it’s wise to get too “objective” about other people’s lives, I think that it is sometimes the only way for people with different values to talk about what is morally right.

  39. Another excellent topic! In other Muslim countries a man may make a legal document stating that in the event of his death the children are to be in the mother’s custody, and override the prevailing family law (mudwana). Is the same true in Saudi Arabia? Saudi does seem more restrictive in theory and in practice in other realms of “what women can do”.

    In my experience, probably more limited than that of others commenting here, both partners in the marriage are ignorant of the laws and surprised by the impact of the culture on their relationship. That doesn’t stop the more advantaged party from eventually taking advantage, of course–expecially in times of marital conflict or the ultimate conflict, divorce. Rather universal, unfortunately, but with greater impact where the disparity is greater in law and culture.


  40. Maybe things have changed, but when I was in Saudi Arabia, women DID drive. Women drove on the compounds. Saudi brothers took their sisters to the desert and taught them how to drive so they would know how “in case of an emergency.” Saudi women drive outside of Saudi Arabia, no problem, it seems they are only forbidden to drive in their own country, go figure.:-)

    In my neck of the woods, Saudi’s buy houses and their female family members live there while going to school. I think the technicality is that in theory, there is a male there (he may be six years old) but they live freely, study freely, and drive. Some families seem to be more supportive of educating their daughters than others, more trusting.

    One day, God willing, all these absurdities will end.

  41. I can tell you now as a Saudi woman myself that when politicians interfere (even if it’s only for good PR) I start hooting and hollering and cheering them on. Case in point: Last year, or I believe some time the year before, Hillary Clinton slammed the Saudi Government for the way they handled the Qatif girl case. I was not offended by this in the slightest. Rather, I was actually very impressed. I quickly became a disciple of Mrs. Clinton and admired anyone who had the chutzpah to speak out. Saudi Arabia preserves its image and values it greatly. The more high-profile women (or men) we get to speak out on our behalf, the more progress we make. Sure when a King steps in and “pardons” a girl for being raped 7 times, it’s not exactly progress. But the mere fact that a politician shamed them into stepping in and stopping the madness, that the world now knows the weak-spot whence the royal family can be prodded, I say more power to the outside world. Keep protesting, keep slamming, keep following and “judging.” Feminists here are silenced and condemned and the risks associated with activism run the gamut from loss of one’s job to imprisonment to death. Do it for those who can’t!

    Nzingha, I have said it once and I’ll say it again. I love you. Your comments gave me chills. I wish I was one of Mr. Man’s relatives. I’d imagine I’d love coming by your house and discussing this over coffee.

  42. Sandra–yes, exactly. This country is rife with contradictions. It’s funny how it is assumed that an underpaid stranger from the Indian sub-continent is more reliable with a woman (and her car) than herself. But, alas c’est la Saudi.

    Also, I think this speaks volumes about how Saudis view foriegn (read: Asian) men. That is, subhuman. A eunuch that can be trusted with the ladies. As you and I know very well, these men are just that, men. Capable of crimes such as rape and theft and extortion, et cetera. For hours a day, women remain under the mercy of their whims. Racism in this country is so pervasive, one often loses track of who exactly is on the bottom of the food chain.

  43. Very much enjoying all the comments.

    In regards to the driving issue, yes; on some compounds women do indeed drive. And yes, in the desert away from prying and/or muttawa eyes, women sometimes drive. In the case of emergencies, women have also driven. And even sometimes behind those darkened windows of a vehicle cruising on Olaya street there may be a young Saudi woman behind the wheel dressed as a Saudi guy with smaugh. And lastly, one will see Saudi woman freely driving outside of Saudi Arabia.

    World from Here – I have tried to address Saudi women’s issues in various posts of my blog. Usually a Saudi woman is taken care of by her extended family in the event of death of a spouse. I’ve heard more sad tales of the expat wife of a Saudi living in harsher circumstances after the death of a Saudi spouse than a Saudi woman in such conditions.

    Overall while there may appear to be restrictions placed on Saudi women unfathomable to other cultures, the Saudi woman in general is treated well by her family and by the culture – this is my view and of course there are always exceptions to the rule. For example the Saudi women I know never worry about finances, housing, pocket money, etc. They know they are taken care of and looked after by either their husband or extended family. But there are so many sides to this complicated picture.

    Sandra – the issue of the driver is indeed a paradox and contradiction in terms. A driver is not a mahrem by any means yet if you ask most Saudi women, they will tell you that as long as the driver is not a Saudi but rather an Indonesian, Philippine, Pakistani, Indian, Sudanese, and so on, he is therefore “invisible” and allowed to transport her alone in the vehicle.

    I do indeed look forward to more comments and discussion.

  44. Regarding women going to graveyards: Its totally dependent on the culture. In Egypt when a person is buried it is usually only men who go to the burial but women can and do often go to the graveyard later and read Quran in the name of the deceased. Excessive crying and wailing is the reason that there are hadeeth that caution women against going.

  45. Farooha- I love that you used a yiddish word, “chutzpah,” because its so anti-stereotype. Keep on it. Do you have a blog or website?

  46. Molly–Ha! Well incorporating Yiddish words into my everyday lexicon has sort of become my shtick of late. (There you go again, ps) And, no. I do not have a blog at the moment but I have had plenty before. I guess I just couldn’t take the bullshit–which in essence is just an angst-ridden (psuedo)”cool” way of saying, I’m a wuss who cracks under the pressure of strangers’ criticism online😦

  47. yes; one does have to have a thick skin if a blogger! (smile)

  48. “…Capable of crimes such as rape and theft and extortion, et cetera. For hours a day, women remain under the mercy of their whims. Racism in this country is so pervasive, one often loses track of who exactly is on the bottom of the food chain….”

    But then again…the men are at the mercy of the women as well. Ive heard stories where women have flirted and seduced their drivers…either desperate for a relationship or just wanting to blackmail him into taking her places he knows she shouldnt be going…but not able to say a word. Just stories I heard.

    I also agree that the outside world should stand up and holler when ever Saudi culture gets in the spotlite such as the Qatif girl…its only fair considering the world stands up and hollers whenever we get up to such crap. Fair is fair.

  49. Just wanted to point out a contradiction in the post. Woman CANNOT be with a unrelated male, but they CAN have their own driver. Well, the driver is unrelated and that can cause problems. However, that is Saudi society for you….filled with contradictions.:-) In political science, that is the difference between having a rule and applying the rule.

  50. As I keep saying….Saudi Arabia is full of contrasts and contradictions!!

  51. Farooha- an inlaw who loves me would be quite a change:) But your welcome in my home anytime relation or not!

  52. Is it true, that a woman who has her own money, either by working or inheritance, does not have to share any of it with her husband or contribute any of it to the household unless she wants too?

  53. Yes, Tina, that is true.

  54. I dont live in Saudi and have not experienced Saudi Law and it’s so called restrictions on Women. Most of the women there would have grown up with that law just like I, living in the West has grown up with our laws and so to them Im sure it is “normal” as my laws here to me are “normal”.

    I think Saudi lawand customs get a bashing because we living in the West deem it to be “abnormal” because it is not our way. This is the part that annoys me. It actually enrages me! What gives us the right to say that this is wrong? Who said that our way is right? Until all women in the West are treated equally, are healthy happy, financially stable and living in a total Utopia, lets leave Saudi or any other country that we deem as below us and sort ourselves out. This arrogant attitude of the West who thinks they need to change anyone who is not like them is the cause of the division and problems in the world.

    So why dont you all bugger off and worry about the rape, abuse, inequality and moral decline of your own woman and when you good and done sorting that out, then try and stop murdering people in other countries and when you done with that, how about stopping drug and alcohol abuse in your communities and then next try and helping the starving children in America’s slums. Do it in whichever order you like, then come back to the world and worry about teh Saudi women who can take care of herself.

    *vomit* The Patronising West makes me sick

  55. Welcome to the blog, Shazza and thank you for sharing your views. You are not alone in your perspective and I agree with you that many from the West expect to see or rather accept a “mirror image” of Western cultures and traditions and have difficulty accepting or understanding those that are different.

  56. Shazza…while many of us share your thoughts…this is a Saudi blog…about Saudi…and many of the people who respond here have at least spent some time there…or somewhere near by (other gulf states) so can speak with a certain amount of knowledge about it.

    On the other hand…there are 50,000 blogs no doubt on just the subjects you were talking about…so I think its covered…at least in the blogosphere.

    If we all do a little…we can do alot…or so Ive heard.

  57. Ah coolred38 aka ”The Voice of Reason”
    I love being calmed down by you.

  58. Coolred is great, isn’t she? (big hugs)

  59. Kudos to coolred!

  60. i spoke with a religious muslim woman in the UAE about similar issues. her response was “its not my place to question” how things are, that is, how god has set up her world.

    she was no older than 35. this was in 2008, and she wasn’t a poor, uneducated person. but she wasnt highly educated either. she was her husband’s 2nd wife. and of course didnt like her husband’s 1st wife nor did the 1st wife like her. to her this was normal.

    i was disturbed by her capacity for independent, critical thought.

    i wonder if women who dont care or dont question the strict saudi rules use the restrictions as a cop out. like its easier to follow follow the restriction and never take responsibility for yourself than think on your own and be responsible for yourself.

    i think the women of KSA should strive to raise their daughters to question so it becomes culturally acceptable to discuss such questions of these restrictions.

    imho, these restrictions and hurtful, hateful and unfair to women who would prefer to chose to not follow them.

  61. i spoke with a religious muslim woman in the UAE about similar issues. her response was “its not my place to question” how things are, that is, how god has set up her world.

    she was no older than 35. this was in 2008, and she wasn’t a poor, uneducated person. but she wasnt highly educated either. she was her husband’s 2nd wife. and of course didnt like her husband’s 1st wife nor did the 1st wife like her. to her this was normal.

    i was disturbed by her lack of capacity for independent, critical thought.

    i wonder if women who dont care or dont question the strict saudi rules use the restrictions as a cop out. like its easier to follow follow the restriction and never take responsibility for yourself than think on your own and be responsible for yourself.

    i think the women of KSA should strive to raise their daughters to question so it becomes culturally acceptable to discuss such questions of these restrictions.

    imho, these restrictions and hurtful, hateful and unfair to women who would prefer to chose to not follow them.

  62. oops the 2nd post is the one w/ the typo fixed. how do i delete the 1st one?

  63. no problem, Betty. Thanks for sharing your comment and thoughts. I think that the younger generation of Saudi women are indeed questioning more.

  64. I think it’s unfair to put all this on saudi women. It is entirely possible to ”program” kids, and later the adult, into certain behaviour.
    (good subject for a post)
    I think it’s remarcable saudi (and other) women can rise above and are starting to question the status quo, giving their upbringing and cultural pressure.

  65. Very good points, Aafke…kind of like Pavlov’s dog and conditioning…

  66. Its not only Muslim women have this problem…other women of other religions…and women in general..are raised not to question male authority…and really…the way religions are “ran” these days…Gods authority has been usurped by mans(on behalf of God of course)…and for a woman to question man means she is in fact questioning God.

    but then again…God tells us He gave us brains and the ability to think…why point that out to us if we werent meant to use them

  67. sometimes we just need to remind men that they were not a product of immaculate conception….

  68. Nzingha – Exactly. And it sounds like we know the same people. Not really but those stories are unfortunately so common.

    Carol – what a great topic and discussion. How interesting to see such widespread interest and the different view from so many different directions.

    You manage to convey in black and white how many shades of gray there are between what is religious and/or legal, and how far reality can be removed from both.

  69. Thanks Sprinkle.

    The more I learn about the Saudi culture the more shades of gray I see…

  70. If you’re questioning the religious aspects then my reply is simple. Islam is an all or nothing deal, you don’t get to pick and choose as you see fit. If that bothers you, then you might be in the market for a new religion.
    However, the cultural limitations to women’s rights have no precedence and I empathize with you. I believe that with time and effort such grievances will be nothing but distant memories of the past. Furthermore, I think having adversarial relationships with men is counter-productive which sadly seems to be the case. The fact that you are seeing more and more men circumventing the system’s formalities shows that our society is realizing the importance of women’s rights.
    @ Nzingha although I agree with what you’re saying in principle, I believe your arrogance dilutes the issues you want to address. The fact that you completely rejected the opinions and voices of your fellow Saudi sisters and deemed their view nothing more than an obstacle to a so-called utopia says more about you than it does about them.

    Well, that’s my take on subject but bear in mind that I am a Saudi guy that doesn’t have to deal with such frustrations on a daily basis.

  71. Devious – it is good to hear perspectives from a Saudi guy. I think blogs are an excellent venue for all of us (male, female, Saudi, non-Saud) to share and exchange views and learn.

  72. Not that I’m trying to be sexist or anything but I have to agree on some of the reasons why women cannot this or that.

    Let’s start with driving. Reading on articles on the rate of accidents in Saudi Arabia shudders me and allowing women, who are safe drivers based on my experience to drive on Saudi streets will drive the rate of accidents even higher. Why? Men will either gawk at female drivers, not concentrating on the wheels or condemn those females for being this and that.

    About attending Friday prayers, I think every masjids should have a women’s section (if they don’t) because women have the right to attend the prayers. I don’t see any reason why they should be excluded but thinking back, how can the women enter the masjid with dignity (using main/side entrance) without bumping into the men before and after prayers?

    I find it weird that unrelated females can hire drivers to drive them around but since this is Saudi Arabia, contradictions apply.

    Looking through the list, I realised one thing: women can fly and own planes and trains + they can hire pilots/train drivers to fly/drive them because the government has not made it illegal to do so. Provided they have the necessary documentation to make it possible!

  73. while I would prefer to have a choice on whether to drive or not, I am certain I would NOT drive in Saudi unless it were an emergency.

    The mosques which I have been to that have a ladies section usually do have a separate entrance for ladies so no fear of bumping into men.

    Your last paragraph sums it up Firdaus!

  74. “I believe that with time and effort such grievances will be nothing but distant memories of the past…”

    One would have to believe that over 1400 years is adequate enough time to make such things distant memories….especially when the Manual has always been right there…and the perfect Teacher was on hand to convey the message properly…so what else is keeping Saudi back? And by back I mean to recognize the fact that women are created by God just the same as man is created by God….one is not inherently more divine and deserving than the other simply because of a few different body parts.

    I declare that men…Saudi…American…men the world over…really just need to get over the fact that they have a penis…because really…they are basing their “superior” position simply on the fact of that little piece of meat between their legs…and completely disregard the bigger piece of meat in their heads…the one God says is a gift and should be used properly. I dont recall God ever mentioning the penis as being a gift…hmmm?

    (oh sorry did I say that out loud…very bad mood today)

  75. But coolred38, the penis ìs a gift!
    Both sexes got gifted at the beginning of creation, men got penisses, women got brains.:mrgreen:

  76. Aafke…high 5!!!

  77. Ladies….thanks to your most recent comments you have inspired me on a topic of an upcoming post which I’m sure you will enjoy…stay tuned!

  78. amazing pic
    as it just happens I live there
    and its a fact tht women are allowed to drive in campus. and they rarely cause accidents or are involved in it
    as a matter of fact alot of women drivers are here and they just a part of life

    the blue round sticker is on all cars tht are in KFUPM, Eastern Province. I’m really amazed how this picture came here!

  79. i live in saudi arabia..and i have visited america..

    it seems very unusual that people are allowed to buy guns from any place..and commit crimes with these guns. the prevelance of drugs, sexual cravings vulgarity in your culture is amazing and deeply disturbing..

    i do hope that saudi arabia gets back to its feet..but god help america.

  80. jt–interesting perspective. The only time I was really struck by the prevalence of guns in the US was in the relatively benign state of Rhode Island, where it seemed there was a gun shop every few miles of highway. Outside of movies and television the only really disturbing manifestations of a drugs and sex culture that I have seen were in the wrong neighbourhoods of New York City and Washington DC (I was either lost or just passing through). I hope you discover and mingle with the better and best parts of American life and culture which are wonderful.

  81. An interesting view JT… actually I’ve seen more gun shops in KSA than I have in USA…There’s one on Takhusseessee Street as well as one beside the Sultan Garden Center off of Khurais Highway. I was surprised seeing these shops. I’ve not been inside them so not sure how easy it may be necessarily to buy any of the weaponry on display. I can say that in the US any gun shops that do exist must follow very strict regulations and licensing.

    Sorry to say that sex and drugs are manifesting themselves everywhere. Crossroads Arabia blog has a recent posting on the increased proliferation of sex and drugs in Saudi Arabia.

    Back to America, on Tuesday a new regime is officially in place so I am optimistic change will soon be coming to the USA.

  82. @ Devious- Your judgement of my arrogance has nothing at all to do with the issues at hand. And lets be clear, I don’t negate the views of any Saudi women. I however do not agree that a more restricive accepted voice should be imposed on all women. I believe all women should have more choices for themselves. And that even if there is a view much different than my own and sees such restrictions as the right religious or cultural thing to do, let them choose it for themselves not impose it on others. This is not rejecting anyones voice what it is in fact saying is that all have the right to choose for themselves thus ensuring all voices are heard. Arrogant.. I could be but denying a womans voice never, however imposing a particular voice that seeks to limit all I reject.

    @JT neither country holds a monopoly on socieital ills Each however tends to have unique aspects of some of the very same issues. Prevalence of drugs is in each country however the issues that arise and how each country deals with drugs in much differnt. Sexual perversion exists in both countries, but again there may be unique issues that seperates each country.

  83. Devious writes “If you’re questioning the religious aspects then my reply is simple. Islam is an all or nothing deal, you don’t get to pick and choose as you see fit. If that bothers you, then you might be in the market for a new religion.”

    Whose Islam are you talking about? Sufi? Shi’a? Hanbali? Salafi? Hanafi?

    Whose Islam should be forced on people “all or nothing”? Who decides which version of Islam is accepted? If there isnt agreement, what then? War?

    Sorry, but Allah gave us freedom of will. We can do what we want and at the end we only have to answer to God for it.

    As a Muslim my views on issues and subjects might be different than yours, and both based on The Qur’an and Hadith. In such a situation you or anyone else does not have a right to force your views on me. In such a case God would be left to judge me, not you.

    When someone starts talking about a “all or nothing deal” it gets worrisome. No one has a right to force any view of religion on someone else, there is no compulsion in religion in Islam.

  84. Ive been reading and learning a lot about the middle east in college. I have a professor who is from the middle east and she has given us all these great books to read. right now i am doing my research paper on Women at point zero. It shines a light on how some women are treated. It is unfortunate that they are treated more like objects then equals. And its unfortunate that men need power, and control.

  85. What does one do if they are living in Saudi with their husband and their husband passes away? What is a women to do without any close relatives as mahram? What are your options for leaving the country with children? Do your children automatically go to your saudi husbands family and you leave the country if the husband passes away?

  86. As far as I know: Unless you get a job immediately, and an iquama through your new sponsor, you don’t have an option: you get kicked out. Without your children. Even if you can stay the family may take the children. It’s a property thing. If they will look after your children is another point.
    Unless the family allows you to keep your children you will be seperated from them. Unless the family allows you to visit you will never see them again.

  87. Khadija – you may wish to read this post which I had written earlier that responds to many of your questions:


  88. As an American man who’s lived in Morocco for over 8 years and speaks Arabic, I have to comment.

    Watching Morocco westernize dramatically in the last 10 years has been a mixed bag. It’s great to see positive steps for women – much more equality and independence has been granted. We cheered when King Mohammed VI gave a religious ruling that effectively gave women equality in marriage (they can file for divorce or fair treatment with other wives)

    The down side is a loss of uniqueness. Morocco once prided itself on cultural tourism but once there’s a McDonalds in every city and women dress like Europeans, one wonders what things will remain unique in Morocco after another generation.

    On the gun / sex topic, every culture has it’s “flaunt” and “taboo” issues. America has very few taboo subjects anymore and most of them have turned to “flaunt”. I don’t think that’s healthy for a society. i don’t think Saudi’s stark taboos and sexual segregation are healthy either. There’s got to be a balance somewhere. Who can find it? :-)

    I think birth rates will determine the ultimate answer in some ways as conservative “family oriented” Muslim cultures have much higher birth rates than permissive “anything goes” western cultures where child-bearing is a nuisance and kids are a limit to “personal freedom”. These western cultures are literally going to die out if they don’t pass on a better set of family values.

    That makes Muslim women and families much more important demographically. I’m all for more rights for Muslim women. I do hope Muslim society can do so without losing their moral moorings as most western societies have and keep many of the special cultural ideas that make them unique and fun to experience – as an insider, not just an outsider.

    BTW my family is considering moving to Jeddah this fall. Thanks for sharing your insights and thoughts.

  89. I could not read every thing written here but as a saudi lady I might contribute in this topic just to declare that we are so happy with our religon’s laws and we feel just like prinses here, we are protected from everything which may harm us even men’s looks ,
    we are protected from low standered people and jobs.
    we have all the right to do everything we want with no restriction, having a male superviser is just like when the queens of any europian country has a minister or a king, she never deside alone , she never drive her car alone infront of the puplic, we are covered because I have never seen queens waring bikini infront of the cameras. we are very sure that american ladies dream to be just like us but no hope . they work in pertol, in constructions, in sanitation, in every where where they lose day by day their spirits .


  90. @Saudi Muslim,

    You state that you have the right to do everything you want without any restrictions. However I believe that is as long as your mahrem will agree and allow you. If you have such a mahrem, bravo. Not every Saudi woman will be in the same situation.

  91. @Saudi Muslim,

    I am happy that you are satisfied with your life and the laws and rules you have to abide by. I only you that you realize there a women not as fortunate as you and wants something different.. Maybe their “ministers” are not so nice as yours.

    Remember that if you are Queen then the “ministers” may give advise but the Queen is ultimately the one who makes the decisions. Can you say the same for your mahrem? Are you the one in charge or is he? If your desires do not match what he wants what happens? True ministers of a Queen must obey her not the other way around.

    Also please don’t look down on those who work in “low” places and “low” people. Those people are working so that they may make money to live and it is their money to use as they see fit. Hard work is never to be looked down upon and the feeling of accomplishment and the feeling you have knowing you earned your own money is precious. These women don’t have to share what she has earned unless she wants to. You may live a life where you will never have to work but I hope you realize that you are blessed. There are many Saudi who do have to work or others go hungry. I’m sure there are some who wish they could work in “low” places so that they or their families can eat.

    True Queens wear bikinis if they choose to. The drive if they choose to. They make decisions when they choose to and it is other people who must follow her command. They are protected but not just by her family but also by laws and her government.

    In my country we teach men that while you may look you may not harass or rape or threaten no matter what a women chooses to wear. Can you say that about the men in Saudi Arabia? Your religion teaches men to lower their gazes but do they do that? Why don’t men respect you unless you hide underneath yards of black cloth? Have you ever been harassed even when you are wearing your abaya? Why do you think that is? In my country we don’t feel like we have to hide ourselves because our men understand that we are protected by law against harassment. Should they break that law they are punished. Are they punished in your country if a woman is raped? Or are the victims like the girl who was sentenced to lashes when she was the one wronged? In my country the victim isn’t punished the rapist is.

    So while you may think you are a princess or a queen remember there are women out there who true princesses or queens. Those true queens don’t have to obey others but others have to obey her. I would rather be a “low” person in my country than to be a princess in yours. I have the freedom to choose what I’d like, wear what I’d like and do what I’d like. It might seem like a we deserve your pity but at least we don’t have to live in a gilded cage.

  92. I think its WONDERFUL women don’t drive in Saudi. They are one lucky bunch and very smart to let others take over the driving part!

    As the mother of three kids and a husband who travels constantly, I have had it with driving
    everyone to school, from school, to quran classes, from quran classes, to library, from library to airports, from airports, to after-school activities, from after-school activities…that’s gender equality in US!

  93. I enjoyed the opportunity while in KSA that I did not have to drive. It was a blessing to be dropped and picked up right at the door! Although I can also relate well just to the feeling of frustration of not having the choice of being able to do so or not!

  94. In Saudi most women can’t afford a driver so people mostly stay home. No going to Quran class, after-school activities or the library, or anywhere.

  95. In my country (UK), women by law have equal rights to men. We have had the vote 100 years almost exactly….not really very long in the grand scheme of history.
    I see it’s a long time since the original group of Women who posted here have commented, but I would like to know if they think it is worrying that more & more Muslim women in the UK (especially London) wear veils with only their eyes showing. Is this a public sign that they are following (foreign) cultural laws that mean they are not treated with equal rights? Female circumcision and ‘honour’ killings also happen here too. Although the victims are aided, even relocated under protective new identities, there is rarely prosecution for the perpetrators. I worry that we are letting our sisters down here by not enforcing the law for them. Surely the customs of other countries should not supersede the law here?

  96. @Mrs Miggins – I think it is becoming a growing concern that men and women are choosing to practice shariah law as well as tribal or cultural customs when coming to a new country where the laws are different. This causes conflict and challenges. I agree that in some cases it also diminishes the rights of women.

  97. As im from saudi ill try to answer some of the questions about women driving, actually the disadvantage when women driving more than advantage as well as in Islamic society you have to look after your family. Also some of people are Bedouin which is difficult for them to see some thing like this, actually if you go and ask 100 women 20 of them will say we wanna drive and 80 will reject that.

  98. they shouldnt be allowed to reproduce

  99. “Of course such a requirement is not mandated by Islam, it actually goes against Islam. But, like in many cases in Saudi, culture and the insecurity and weakness of Saudi men trumps Islam and the Prophet.”

    From my observation of Saudi’s, it appears laws created restricting women or women’s rights aren’t due to men thinking women as lesser beings, but more as measures preventing men from being “men.” I believe Saudi men are afraid of the power women have. In other words, men know they are sexual beings and are attempting to prevent themselves from themselves. It’s kinda like the same way all men (yes all men) hide their stash of porn or pretend they don’t masturbate….they all do, yet they want to hide the thing that they feel is making them do it, so they put it in a closet (women in an abaya). It’s not about the women, it’s about the men. Since all men masturbate, but none want to admit it, they, therefore, have to hide the thing that is “causing it”: which in thier mind is women. In another example, a gun doesn’t shoot itself, somebody has to pull the trigger. if you put the gun in the gun safe, it’s “out of sight out of mind.” In this regard, Saudi women need to expose men’s sexual minds as being the root cause of misinterpretation and subjugation, while Saudi men should adore women as powerful beings that should be proudly displayed rather than cloaked in undue restraint. It’s the Saudi women who need to step up, step out, crack out the whip and lay down the law as if the men were but mere misbehaving schoolboys.

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