Hierarchy of "Real Women" in Saudi Arabia

There are ~5.4 million women in KSA between the ages of 15-64 (~Saudi population is 20 million, 60% are over 15 years old, 45% of those are women) and 1.5 million are spinsters according to the Gulf News. 

That means close to 30% of Saudi women are not married because they are either considered old (over 25 according to some!) or unable to “attract” a husband. When asked about what makes women more attractive for marriage it turns out there is a hierarchy similar to that for men (see earlier post on racism and real men).

“Real Women” in order of decreasing attractiveness (for marriage) fall roughly in these categories (attractiveness for affairs or second marriages is another matter):

  • Tribal women- these are either Saudi (or Emirati women) that trace their lineage to a tribe. Each region has a hierarchy of tribes.
  • Foreigners (Western, Arabs, Asian, others)- the preferences between the various foreigners varies based on who is asked. Some mothers prefer Muslim Arab women for their sons, some mothers do not like converts, some sons prefer western women, some prefer someone who can speak the same language, some sons look for beauty and/or compatibility. What appears to be less common are tribal Saudi men married to Asian women (though it was more common a generation ago).
  • Non-tribal Saudi women, Saudi women doctors and divorced women- this category often ends up marrying non-tribal Saudis, divorced men or becoming second wives. Marrying non-Saudi men also happens however it is a prolonged process due to government approvals that are needed beforehand.

What is striking about the order is not that locals prefer to marry locals (that is true for almost every part of the world), it is the notion that non-tribal Saudi women are less desirable than foreigners. Tribalism is such a strong, heavily embedded concept that it completely supercedes nationality and language- not having a tribe while being Saudi is considered less than being a non-Saudi!