where do women go?

Once again, the options for where women can go by themselves is very limited. Some places women cannot go even if they are accompanied by a male relative. Here are some favorite spots that I have observed:

  • SHOPPING- at the end of the day (also in the beginning and the middle) there is not much to do other than shopping. Women collect in hordes and are usually laden with bags.
  • Banks- these are one of the few employers for women. Several banks have women-only branches. Others have permission from the Ministry of Labor to allow women to work in regular buildings but with special provisions for segregation
  • Hospitals and medical facilities- these are the only truly mixed work environments in the Kingdom. The vast majority of the women employed here are expats (e.g. all the nurses, majority of the drs). There is a sprinkling of Saudi female doctors and a few Saudi women at reception desks at the Ob/Gyn counters- the rest are ALL expats.
  • Women-owned businesses- there is a growing number of women who own their own small-businesses. As they cannot be employed by anyone else, they have started their own organizations to overcome the social hurdles.
  • Charities and non-profits- several women have started their own charities or work at them.
  • Coffee mornings and social events
  • Women-only spas/shops- there is a very small percentage of these available and they hire women
  • Schools and other educational institutions- all classes are separated by gender (with the exception of some of the expat schools) and so are all teachers. A lot of expat women are teaching. There is a growing number of educated Saudi women in teaching and administrative positions at higher-education institutions.
  • Amusements parks, “toylands”- women are often seen here with lots of children.
  • Public parks- women are seen here but usually as families, accompanied by at least one male.

At the end of the day, women are sadly under-represented in the workforce and are almost non-existent in the service sector. Some show a lot of spirit and try to beat the odds. The vast majority do nothing.


how do women get around?

One of the responses I received on my Women’s driving post was the question of how women get around here. The simple answer is “they don’t” – hehhee, just kidding. Let me list the constraints and the options:

  • Women cannot drive themselves
  • There is no public transportation

So what do they actually do?

  • They have personal chauffeurs
  • Their fathers/husbands/brothers/sons/uncles act as chauffeurs
  • They use taxis (preferably driven by non-saudis)
  • They use limo services with scheduled drop-offs and pick-ups (preferably driven by non-saudis)
  • They use shuttle buses with designated routes, drop-offs and pick-ups if they live on compounds
  • Some educational institutions have their own bus services that pick up and drop-off students.
  • They carpool and travel in “packs”

As you might have realized, if a woman comes from a wealthy family, or is an expat wife, she has easy options through hired help. If from a middle-class family, she has to fight for limited resources with the rest of her family. As for the lower income households, they really do not have many options for getting around.

Of course the next question is, where could they do even if they could travel freely?

no arabic for women

I’ve just spent close to two hours trying to find out about the King Saud University Arabic program. There’s no problem for men, I even have the name and cell phone number for the male instructor. The KSU Arabic language division stopped having evening classes for women and have moved them to the College of Applied Studies and Community Service. Calling that number takes you into an endless loop right before the VM hangs up on you with a screech.

It takes less time to sign up for an arabic program in Egypt than it takes to get any info on classes for women here. The other option is a tutor however the last lady I talked to charged more than getting an Arabic tutor in the US- go figure!

Women driving

women drive

It is the 18th anniversary of women protesting the ban on driving by driving through the streets of Riyadh. People keep telling me that lifting the ban will completely change things for women around here. I disagree.

I think the car sticker above explains a lot about social attitudes (I took this picture a few months ago). Look at her hair streaming behind her. A woman who drives is considered to be one who doesn’t cover- she’s free, loose, open. These are not flattering adjectives over here.

People think that lifting the ban will mean women will suddenly have access to transportation, they will be able to work etc. Well, not really. This is not a logistics issue at all. For women who need to work, they find a way. For those who want to work but are faced with “no transportation” as an excuse are dealing with exactly that, an excuse.

For one car families, the primary driver will continue to be the men. In households where the car is shared between several members of the household, the car will still rarely be available for women. For households where there is more than one car, there are also hired drivers to take women around. How many “respectable” households will allow women to drive?

What needs to change is the larger attitude about the role of women in society. The issue here is a cultural one. Once there is an acknowledgment, at a societal level, that women should VISIBLY be a contributing part of everyday life, things will change around here. If/when the ban is lifted, people should not have to worry about facing social castigation for “allowing” the women of their households to drive.

The ban on women’s driving is merely a symptom of a larger cultural issue. A band-aid solution for the symptom will not change the much bigger underlying perspectives.

previous post on traffic: https://ruhsa.wordpress.com/2008/04/27/roads/