Saudi Women Complain
To send a newspaper cut to an electronically discussion list doesn't
necessarily mean to agree with its content either in whole or in part.
The First English Daily Newspaper in Saudi Arabia
Published simultaneously from Jeddah, Riyadh and Dhahran
Thursday, 3, July, 2003 (04, Jumada al-Ula, 1424)
The Road to Success Is Never Easy: Princess Hussa
Moodhy Al-Khalaf, Special to Arab News
RIYADH, 12 June 2003 Under the auspices of Princess Hussa bint
Salman ibn Abdul Aziz, a seminar entitled "Businesswomen in the Light
of the System: Their Rights and Responsibilities" at Prince Salman
Social Center on Sunday was attended by a large group of women of all
ages and regional backgrounds.
"The number of Saudi businesswomen has risen to a very substantial
level in the Kingdom in general, and in Riyadh in particular," said
Huda Al-Jeraisy, head of the Ladies' Cultural Committee of the Riyadh
Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in an opening statement to the
seminar. She added that this seminar was the first of many to be
organized by the committee to advise Saudi businesswomen in running
businesses in the Kingdom.
Hind Al-Sheikh, a member of the committee, then introduced the two
lecturers, Layla Al-Dughaither and Zaina AbuHassan, both of whom are
The program's seminar took the form of three stages: First, there
were lectures on legalities of business in the Kingdom. The topics
were divided between the two lawyers and dealt with the following
points: Introduction to the regulations and procedures (Layla Al-
Dughaither); The judicial system (Zaina AbuHassan); Rules and
regulations pertaining to small businesses (Layla Al-Dughaither);
Rules and regulations pertaining to larger companies (Zaina
AbuHassan); General problems facing Saudi business women (both
Second was an impromptu speech delivered by Princess Hussa. The
princess jokingly opened her speech by saying that, because she was
not a businesswoman herself, she was almost an intruder at the
meeting (Princess Hussa has a bachelor's degree in English Language
and Literature from King Saud University and a master's degree in
Diplomatic Studies in International Law from Westminster).
Nevertheless, the young princess' encouraging tone was welcomed by
the assembly and facilitated a calm, open discussion.
Princess Hussa emphasized: "Saudi women face a challenge to prove to
ourselves and the rest of the world that we are capable of achieving
and developing within our religious framework."
The princess then briefly touched on the importance the Internet and
video-conferencing may have in overcoming some of the cultural
obstacles facing Saudi women.
"With the emergence of virtual offices, women no longer need to leave
the office or work in mixed environments," she said.
Princess Hussa also broached the topic of some social resistance to
"Some will say that a woman need not leave the house to work unless
it is of utmost necessity," she said. "If that is the only reason for
a woman to work then I say there is an urgent need: Your country
needs you. Saudi women have a national duty to utilize their capital;
in that way, we can help bring Saudi Arabia up to WTO standards. We
have many religious women that are educated and enlightened enough to
argue this cause. We women must stand together. The road to success
is never easy."
Finally, the princess emphasized that it was the goal of the
committee, with the help of active businesswomen, to petition for a
women's section to be opened in the chamber of commerce here in
Riyadh as it has in Jeddah.
"There are people of authority like Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Jeraisy,
Sheikh Hussain Al-Athel, and Prince Abdullah ibn Faisal who are
willing to help us achieve our goals. We just need to unite and
cooperate in presenting our ideas and suggestions in a logical and
The third and final stage of the assembly was the open discussion
part. Unsurprisingly, most of the questions dealt with what was
perceived by most women as the greatest legal obstacle facing Saudi
businesswomen: The requirement of having to be represented by a male
legal agent. In reply to the questions on this point, all five
members of the presenting committee promised that change was on the
"If women united and petitioned for the establishment of a women's
section in the chamber of commerce, the requirement for using a male
legal agent would no longer be necessary," Princess Hussa said.
The committee also mentioned that authorities were considering making
the ID cards obligatory for Saudi businesswomen. When asked about the
practicality of doing that when society (and even the judicial
system) still has not accepted the idea of ID cards for women, Layla
Al-Dughaither said: "Well, at least today they exist... the rest
comes with time, persistence and patience
Women Continue to Be Marginalized in Our Society
Maha Akeel Arab News Staff
JEDDAH, 3 July 2003 As a journalist I attend many conferences,
forums and seminars, whether medical, economic, educational or
social. In each of them the segregation between men and women takes
Medical conferences are the least segregated. Men and women are
seated in the same hall, separated only by an aisle. Presenters,
whether male or female, stand in front of the whole audience.
Everyone is interacting professionally and respectfully.
What is wrong with this picture?
Nothing, as far as I can see.
The women are dressed modestly, with their hair covered. Some even
wear their niqab (a veil covering half their face), and it does not
interfere with their participation in the conference. Yet this form
of limited segregation at conferences doesn't seem to be appropriate
for many others who choose to place women behind a screen or in a
separate hall, listening to and watching the presenters through
closed-circuit television. Although this form still allows women to
interact with the participants and be involved in the conference, it
is not as convenient or practical as direct contact. We all know how
much more effective it is to speak to someone directly rather than
through a medium. Nevertheless, I have no real objection to this
form, if it is considered more appropriate and suitable for our
The types of conferences that really irk me are the ones exclusively
for men or exclusively for women, even when they are covering the
same topic. For example, there may be a conference on child abuse or
unemployment or educational reform, and there will be a day scheduled
for men and another for women, or there might not be a day for women
at all, as if we don't share the same concerns and the same
experiences. Aren't we part of society? Doesn't every issue whether
political, economic or social affects us as well as men?
However, these issues don't always affect us the same way as men,
therefore men cannot represent us or speak on our behalf. Usually
they do not speak for us, and only assume that what works for men
must also work for women. Do they consider us incapable of expressing
an intelligent opinion? Do they think that we have no independent
views or insights on a subject that might be worth studying? Do they
feel that they have everything covered and under control and there is
nothing we can add or propose, nothing we can improve upon, nothing
we can possibly suggest that could make a difference?
We are told that the presentations and discussions in the women's-
only conferences are written up and handed to the managers and
ministers concerned with the issues discussed, and that they review
them and deliberate on them and make a decision. No wonder it takes
such a long time, to improve the women's departments and facilities
and change anything that has to do with women's jobs and personal
Women continue to be marginalized in our society. Our participation
and involvement in any issue or project is only an afterthought when
all the decisions have already been made and implemented. We are
asked for our input on "women's issues" as if we are alien creatures
from another planet.
Our so-called issues are just as much part of society as any other
labor, municipal or religious issues we talk about in our social
gatherings and the media. The high rate of unemployment is our issue,
the sewage problem in Jeddah is our issue, harassment in public
places is our issue, cramped classrooms are our issue, terrorism is
our issue, the Western media's biased representation of our society
is our issue. Everything that affects us privately and publicly,
locally and internationally, is our issue. We are members of this
society and we should be treated as equal members of it and not as
invalids who can't speak for themselves or as second-class citizens
who should not be allowed to speak.
Speaking of segregation, I think we go too far in segregating men and
women. And before anyone starts attacking me, I'm not suggesting we
desegregate everywhere. For example, studies in the US found that
girls and boys in segregated schools scored higher grades than mixed
schools. We don't need a study from the US to tell us that, we can
see it in our schools. But the issue here is the curriculum. In the
US they tried "separate but equal" in schools segregating white and
black children, and it failed. "Separate but equal" is failing here
Girls' schools and universities are in an even worse condition than
boys' schools, and their curriculum is different. The same goes for
segregated work places. Most women prefer to work in a separate
building from men for religious reasons and because they feel more
comfortable. However, most women's facilities are either too small
for them or too old and unsafe.
There are always attempts to segregate men and women in public places
like restaurants, recreational parks and malls. The problem is not in
keeping men away from women, but in teaching men how to treat women
with respect and in teaching women to respect themselves and act
Saudi Women Complain on Television Show
Thu Jun 26, 4:26 PM ET
By FAIZA SALEH AMBAH, Associated Press Writer
JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia - Eight Saudi women appeared on a groundbreaking
television program Thursday to criticize previously taboo subjects
such as the right to drive, unemployment and political participation
Wearing headscarves of red, blue and yellow instead of traditional
black the participants complained about their lack of jobs,
opportunities and public voice in this conservative kingdom, where
women have less freedom than in most other Muslim nations.
"We are handicapped in terms of personal freedom. We even need
permission from a male guardian to get our identification papers,"
pediatrician Suad Jaber said on the program, "Saudi Women Speak Out."
The show is part of an opening up of Saudi media since Islamic
militants detonated vehicle bombs in Riyadh on May 12, killing 25
bystanders, and fought a deadly gun battle with police in the holy
city of Mecca earlier this month. The attacks deeply disturbed the
country and forced the government to allow greater freedom in the
Siham Fatani, a professor of English at King Abdul-Aziz University in
Jiddah, said the television program was unprecedented.
"This was something new," Fatani said. "It never happened before. It
was the first time Saudi women were given a chance to give their
opinion publicly like that. Not everyone reads the papers, but
everyone watches television."
Abeer Mishkhas, a columnist, says the liberalization is also part of
an effort by the Saudi government to improve its image abroad.
"Saudi Arabia is trying to show the world that there's more to us
than terrorism and religion," said Mishkhas, a female editor at the
Arab News newspaper. "We are given more freedom to discuss things. We
can now criticize government ministers and government policies."
Owing to the country's strict interpretation of Islam, Saudi women
are not allowed to drive, travel without permission of a male
guardian, work alongside men or appear in public unveiled.
"Rights are not given. We have to ask for them," computer programmer
Alia Banaja said on the two-hour program.
Maha Fitaihi, wearing a red and yellow scarf and a brightly colored
long dress, criticized the lack of women in the Shura council. The
government-appointed body advises the king and is the closest thing
Saudi Arabia has to a parliament.
"There are no women in the consultative council or even in the
government's discussions about the employment of women," said
Fitaihi, a social worker.
Since the show was broadcast Wednesday evening, and again Thursday
afternoon, the phones of the participants have not stopped ringing.
"I've gotten 70 to 80 phone calls and messages since yesterday,"
Fitaihi said. Two were from satellite channels wanting interviews,
Samar Fatani, another participant, said she received many calls from
women who criticized the participants for not being more outspoken.
"This is just a feeler, a first step. We need to take things slowly
so it doesn't backfire," said Fatani, who is not related to Siham
Fatani, the professor.
Women came together to watch the program on the Saudi-owned satellite
channel Orbit. For three days beforehand, women publicized the show
by word of mouth and text messages on cell phones. "A program on
Saudi women Wednesday. Watch it. Circulate this to everyone you
know," a typical message read.
"While we were watching the show, everybody was calling everybody,"
said Siham Fatani, who watched the program with her family.
One participant, a divorced mother of two, spoke of the plight of
divorcees and widows.
"Some of us need to work. I wish more attention was given to the
divorced and widowed women in society," said Zein Darandari, a
"Driving is no longer a luxury, it's a necessity," said Samar
Fatani. "Some people have a hard time making ends meet and have to
borrow money to afford drivers," she said.
Fitaihi, the social worker, said there were many important issues the
show did not cover, such as domestic violence and divorce laws.
"I hope we have more shows like this. We need to be able to speak out
and be heard," she said.
Progressive Saudi women argue that in order to advance, they have to
take part in decision-making.
"We need institutionalized reforms. They need to be official. Women
need to be active participants in all the ministries and all the
government sectors that deal with women and family law," Fitaihi
Opinion Journal -- from The Wall Sreet Journal Editorial Page
July 3, 2003
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
Sarah and the Saudis
Despite Prince Bandar's assurances, another American woman is trapped
in the kingdom.
Tuesday, June 17, 2003 12:01 a.m. EDT
If only Sarah Saga were trying to crash a men's-only golf club. Then
she and those like her might be guaranteed some sustained media
coverage. As it is, this intrepid 23-year-old American mother is now
holed up with her two children in the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah in a
desperate bid for freedom.
Back in September Prince Bandar, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the
U.S., claimed in this newspaper it is "absolutely not true" that any
American women were in his country against their will. Ms. Saga's
flight to the consulate suggests otherwise. For under Saudi law no
woman--even an American--is free to leave that country if her father
or husband forbids it.
The good news is that Ms. Saga and her kids haven't been escorted out
by U.S. Marines, as happened to Monica Stowers 13 years ago at our
embassy in Riyadh. In response to Congressional hearings and reports
in these columns exposing such abuses, U.S. Ambassador Robert Jordan
vowed that no American would be expelled from the embassy under his
Yet allowing them to stay is not the same as getting them out.
Notwithstanding marginal progress in increasing some family contacts,
the Saudis still insist on remaining the only country we know of
where an American accused of no crime is not free to leave when she
Ms. Saga's story illustrates that tragedy. She found herself trapped
in Saudi Arabia at age six, when her Saudi father defied a U.S.
custody agreement by simply refusing to return her to America after a
1985 visit. There she has languished ever since. Yet she never gave
up on America or her American mom. Married off to another Saudi, Ms.
Saga used a computer to track her long-lost mother via the Internet
and tell her of her hopes for escape.
Most Americans, we suspect, would find it hard to reconcile the facts
of Ms. Saga's case with the new Saudi PR campaign invoking "shared
values," or Prince Bandar's happy talk about "normal people living
normal lives." Just ask Ms. Saga's mother, Debbie Dornier.
Ms. Dornier says her Saudi ex-husband (Sarah's father) has always
vowed he'd see Sarah dead before seeing her return to America. Safely
ensconced inside the consulate, this woman now faces the usual Saudi
choice given those in her predicament: your freedom or your children.
Ms. Saga isn't the first American woman to report death threats from
a Saudi father or husband. Nor is she the only one to have sought
refuge at the Jeddah consulate. Another American woman spent the last
two weeks with her three children in the same compound, with the
Saudis saying she could go only if she left her American children
behind. Surely there exist other American woman too terrified to risk
even trying to get to a U.S. consulate or embassy.
From the start the Saudis have always asked why their cases merit
more attention than the more numerous cases involving European
parents. Ms. Saga's story ought to answer that. What makes Saudi
Arabia so unpleasantly distinctive is that if you are unlucky enough
to be an American female, your husband or father effectively remains
your jailor if he so chooses, backed up by the full powers of the
If we have learned anything since 9/11, it's the strong national
interest all Americans share in letting the world know there will be
consequences for molesting an American abroad. So long as the Saudis
insist on the dismal status quo, we can't understand why any U.S.
Administration would even consider issuing another Saudi visa or
repatriating another Saudi detainee from Guantanamo.