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Exorcising the ‘inner ghost’ of a community…

There’s no community in the world without challenges – though, the multitude of barriers in each community differs markedly.I call these barriers inner ghosts of societies - visible or invisible, their presence always lurk our path,obstructing us from progress.Unfortunately, these ghosts are not from an alternate universe,they're our creation.

We nurture them unconsciously,let them ‘possess’ us – fearing our bodies ( community) will decompose if we leave them. Many in Saudi society harbor such fears. And consequently, cultural /traditional barrier end up creating economic/social/legal barrier for many women. Majority women in the country are ‘technically marginalized’ but to identify every Saudi women as ‘oppressed, veiled’ is a terrible mistake. It undermines the achievements of many women. Yes, we want rights but int’l media and few local conservatives/liberals fail to understand ‘rights/freedom’ from a Saudi women’s viewpoint. Of course, there are universal rights which we desperately seek, right to hold a public office,right to drive, etc - and I can observe few, slow changes in this area.

In public life, the male guardianship system structurally constraints women's ability to travel, study, do business. Many women without husband or father face a peculiar dilemma of obtaining permission from their younger brother.Some abuse this system which has no exact basis in Islam. This system is unique Saudi interpretation of the religion.
In private life, the attitude towards women is chauvinistic, domestic violence is an issue, either some girls are married off at young age or barred from marrying by their families! However, Saudi women do control a large portion of wealth,reports suggest $11.9bn just cash,which is already proving a catalyst for change.

For Saudi Women – its Guardianship,For Non-saudi women - guardian system plus Saudi Sponsorship system! Now imagine being a non-saudi female?!
KSA do not provide citizen by sole virtue of their birth.Naturalizing process of local-born-foreigners only started five years ago.Based on points system – many find the requirements ambiguous and tricky.

I strongly think all women must collaborate and understand each other,rather than seeing each other as aliens. There must be a support system for migrant women workers,more Arabic language classes and increased inter-racial awareness among women. Many Saudi women think foreign women take away their jobs, but those jobs are sometimes low paid and they work long hours. Abuse is there–Saudi or not!
Negative stereotypes like ‘non-saudi women do not contribute to society’ persists. I personally did a story last year
( my first feature ) on a Bangladeshi women who wrote the first Geography book on KSA in English! She also master-mined the first ever ModelUnitedNationsConference in KSA.

Women here need to connect to other women worldwide and see that we aren’t the only one facing issues and ultimately seek and provide support. I am encouraging more women to join world pulse - It’s the first step.

There’re some promising ‘happenings and events’ coming up in the country,I’m providing social media consultancy to one of them. And I very much intend to use World Pulse,rigorously !

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Farona's picture

Sigh...I dislike submitting

Sigh...I dislike submitting late. Changing weather is taking a toll on our health across the city :(

mrbeckbeck's picture

Wonderful writing, thank you.

Farona,

I wouldn't worry about the lateness of your assignment, because this is a wonderful piece you have written! Good for you for overcoming the challenges, and submitting your assignment here.

I like the title, I like the picture you've included, and the way you craft your essay is very powerful.

Reading your words here, it struck me how in many ways our countries are similar. There are surely "shadows" here in the US, and immigration is an issue that can really get opinions and tempers flaring. Too rarely do we hear from women witnessing and experiencing the challenges, and overcoming them... so, thank you for your work. This is great.

I look forward to seeing you bring more of your local community onto PulseWire! I hope that together we can all achieve great things as a community... a global community.

Wishing you all the best,
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

Farona's picture

Thank you for reading my post

Thank you for reading my post and leaving a beautifully encouraging comment. We do have Issues a lot in common between the two countries. I was always aware of that, but very few stories make it out from this part of the world. The stories always either about Muslim Women’s veil or how Saudi gov are cracking down bloggers :S which is again, often exaggerated.
Saudi Arabia holds a diverse muslim community, a population of 27 million and 9.5 million resident foreigners, almost 30-31% of the population. There are different types of ‘foreigners’ here - Migrant women workers coming from east asia and south asia to work as maids,nurses . Migrant male workers, usually working in the construction sector.

Thirdly, foreigners who came during the early development stages of the kingdom in 70’s and 80’s. People who held good experience and educational background looking for greater financial opportunities in the middle east. These residents have their entire families here, they are aware of the local tradition/culture, the understand the economy and the language etc. Their kids are born and breed here, yet still, structural impediments make them feel alien. They are not willing to go back to their ‘passport stated’ countries’, naturally because, they feel it’s their home.

From the beginning of influx of these foreigners, there were hardly any process or let say, programs to integrate them into the larger local community. Hence many ended up leaving in large compounds only belonging to certain nationalities. You wouldn’t have to go far to find a resident living and working for 20 years yet only manage to speak one or two Arabic word !

And again, Saudi Arabia is home to the most sacred place of Islam – Muslim all over the world dream to stay close to this holy place. It has a very deep spiritual significance, it’s just not all about foreigners looking for better financial opportunities.

mrbeckbeck's picture

Thanks for more insight...

Hi Farona,

Your reply to my reply is full of even more insight... thank you! I know that most news that makes it to US audiences about other places in the world offers only a sideways glance at the issues, and rarely if ever from the eyes of women. That's why you're here, along with the rest of the World Pulse community.

It's fascinating to think that people could live 20 years in SA and only speak a little Arabic. But, if you have your family and a community of other people from your home country, it makes sense in some ways that you would stay close to comfort like that. Couple that with the structural impediments you mention, and a lack of programs to integrate or at least connect people... it sounds like a big challenge for a third of the population!

Anyway, thank you for this interesting perspective, and helping to shine some light on the subject!

Wishing you all the best!
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

olutosin's picture

CONNECTION

Voices of our Future must surely be the connector.
This is a beautiful story dear sister, just as Scott wrote or rightly said, we all have our shadows but my silent prayer is that women become liberated from this patriarchal protector and predator.
I pray that Voices of our Future becomes the microphone for women in Purdah even in teh remotest part of Islamic countries and for women who are in the tribal communities in India and the voice of the economically/financially handicapped women from Owo, in Western Nigeria too.
We can go farther, it is in our hands.
Keep up the good work my dear lady.

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town
Lagos-Nigeria

https:

Farona's picture

Olutosin !( I am trying to

Olutosin !( I am trying to pronounce it correct)
You really made my heart smile ;-) it’s a privilege to have your view express on my journal.

There are shadows everywhere sister but I hope look at our reflection not our shadows.
As women, that's the only way we can move forward.

I have a lot of friends/acquaintances from Nigeria here in Saudi Arabia ! my most cherished high school economics lecturer is one of them. A brilliant man, indeed !

We did share a lot of insights together, I even quoted him in one of my piece about African economics I wrote during my high school two years back.

With Love and gratitude

Eliana's picture

Dear Farona, Thank you for

Dear Farona,
Thank you for your post. I really enjoyed reading it and I realized that you are facing the same issues that our society and I in my work do: we work with migrant women. The stereotypes you listed are the same everywhere we go. Here in Italy it's just the same than in Saudi Arabia. So this is another valuable example that confirms that there is no "I and you, we and them". The world is one and the challenges are more or less the same, wherever we go to. Maybe they appear in another form but the essence is just the same. It's time to empower women and to start a participatory and global approach to the issue.
Thank you for your contribution
Peace to you
Eliana

Eliana

Farona's picture

Thank you for writing here

Thank you for writing here Elina. There is no “I” or “them” it’s always ‘us’. I was encouraged to see that highlighted in your post ! I am just awed to hear similar echos!

I do strongly feel issues are the same, so are the fears! But I think each country, including my country should see at as an advantage. Having nationals from across the world in your own country shows the strength of your community. Acceptance/Tolerance has a strong basis in my country and that’s why “Hajj” or the Pilgrimage to Makkah is an opportunity for Muslims all over the world to assemble and perform their personal rituals with millions of ‘unknowns’. But the spirit sometimes vanishes due to rules and procedures for foreigners – which really identifies them as ‘outsiders’. And it certainly goes both ways. It’s not just citizenship holding Saudis seeing non-citizenship holders as Martians but often foreigners abuse Saudis using the very same system! At the end of the day, the system is not working for anyone.

I think saudi women are much ahead of their Gov's version of reform and empowering them politically should really bring about considerable change. The gov is already considering a women's ministry to deal with domestic violence and family related issues, I do hope issues of all women in the country will be dealt with equality.

Eliana's picture

Dear Farona, Thank you for

Dear Farona,
Thank you for your reply. I agree with you that women, and saudi women have much more power than the Gov would consider them to have and it's at least one initial step to consider a woman as ministry to domestic violence and family issues. I hope this is a beginning of political empowerment of women in your country and in many others.
I really wish to read more about your country and culture, which I do not know much about. I know muslim traditions and rituals but I don't know how Saudi Arabia lives them in every day life.
Thank you.
Peace to you
Eliana

Eliana

Eliana's picture

Dear Farona, Thank you for

Dear Farona,
Thank you for your post. I really enjoyed reading it and I realized that you are facing the same issues that our society and I in my work do: we work with migrant women. The stereotypes you listed are the same everywhere we go. Here in Italy it's just the same than in Saudi Arabia. So this is another valuable example that confirms that there is no "I and you, we and them". The world is one and the challenges are more or less the same, wherever we go to. Maybe they appear in another form but the essence is just the same. It's time to empower women and to start a participatory and global approach to the issue.
Thank you for your contribution
Peace to you
Eliana

Eliana

SLaw's picture

The Mistakes We Make

Farona,

I enjoyed reading this well-written piece. Thank you for sharing an "insider's" view of the situation of women in Saudi Arabia. My father worked in Saudi Arabia for many years and I spent a lot of my childhood holidays in Saudi. I have wonderful memories of Jeddah, Tabuk, and Al Baha :)

Reflecting now on my past experiences, and having developed a particular interest in culture through the years, I have come to realize how the media portrayal of all Saudi women as " 'oppressed, veiled' " is sometimes indicative of a lack of insight. Of course, as you mentioned, Saudi has its own share of challenges as do all societies, but often, we tend to interprete the world based on our own frames of reference and unfortunately, we often we make faulty judgments and generalizations.

But that's why we have fora such as these--gathering places for intercultural exchange. As we share our stories, we each open windows into our cultures, promoting understanding, stomping out the embers of ignorance.

Shukran :)

Farona's picture

Ah'lan sister !

Slaw ! Thank you for your sharing your beautiful word - much appreciated ! it shows not everyone uses one glass to understand one humanity :- ) Glad to know you have been to three very different cities of KSA. I live in Jeddah –Baha is my favourite place though !

Yes we all make hasty generalization, even we in Saudi Arabia do not understand other countries from their viewpoint – African and Asian countries are good examples. We only see what mainstream media tells us.

I love the work you do, I strongly believe focusing on youth.
Would love to connect and know more and more!

Shukran jazeelan !

alia's picture

Habibti Farona this is great

Habibti Farona

this is great , iam so proud of you so much

i salute all Suadi women because despit all of what you had mentioned , they are so successful women , they are well educated , by the way as you know the suadi women are consdering the most educated women in the Arab world ,and your writing prove that .

i understand that women in your community need to fight so much for thier rights as all the women situation in Arab countries , but we need people around the world to hear us, i agree when you said "Women here need to connect to other women worldwide and see that we aren’t the only one facing issues and ultimately seek and provide support"

with love
Alia

Farona's picture

Anti lateefa, Ukthi ! Your

Anti lateefa, Ukthi !

Your comments always make me feel so sisterly, Shukran !

We are educated as lawyers, engineers but alas no jobs ! sigh....

Perhaps we can someday meet up ! I always wanted to visit Aleppo !

alia's picture

i would be happy to meet you

i would be happy to meet you my sister Farona

and syria is waiting for you to visit it ;)

my love
Alia

cheyennejm's picture

ghosts

Farona,
This is an amazing and lyrical post. I was really shaken by the analogy of "ghosts" because so much of what prevents us as women from joining forces and moving forward is constructed to be invisible. So much energy goes into dividing potential allies, and it can be easy to fall into it ourselves! Working and living in solidarity has the power to undermine those who do not wish to see change, and the simple act of building relationships has the potential to be revolutionary! I am very excited to read more form you in the future.
best, Cheyenne

Farona's picture

Wonderful thoughts Cheyenne !

I wrote this piece in 45 minutes and was/is suffering from a severe throat infection. May be my unstable state of body prompted me to delve really deep into my own thoughts . I got scared myself knowing what I was going to write (LOL).

Yes, I fully concur with you – you understood it so well, we spend so much energy into dividing :- ( saddens me deeply.

What women today in the world face – are largely invisible and how you can fight something you can’t see? Traditional barriers are very invisible, it constraints a woman’s ability to progress from childhood.

Unlike a human body, where a priest or an imam perform rituals to vanquish them - community ghost can only be eliminated when we free our minds from those shackles. It can only be achieved when we work together ;-)

With gratitude and kindness

Leina's picture

Farona,this is incredible,I

Farona,this is incredible,I was dumb founded to learn about the situation of women in your country.Something needs to be done sister.It`s ridiculous to see how poeple use religion to oppress fellow humans.Stopping a woman from maximising her potentials in my opinion, is depriving the world of solutions to its burning problems.I believe we were all created as solutions to the world`s problems.If God`s intention was for women to be domestic workers he would not have given us the intellect we have.I am proud to know despite the challenges women still distinguish themselves.There is hope!

Farona's picture

Leina. Yes sister - something

Leina. Yes sister - something is being done - but it's too little too late- people use religion and every available tool to justify mistreatment of women. Give them something else and they will use it ! Religion is just a tool -
75 % of women skills go unused :S majority of the women are university graduates outnumbering their male counterparts but they only 14% of them are employed ! mainly in edu and health sector. So you can imagine how sklils are being wasted !
LOL I agree with you - if god wanted us to be slaves/ domestic workers than we would have programmed like that ! but it's remarkable despite these challenges women do a lot of amazing things in science and business - but we need more role models !!!!

Thank you for your comments sister - really made me feel "ENERGIZED" !!!!!!!!

Farona,

Thank you so much for your story. You have such important insights about the situation of women in Saudi Arabia. It's so refreshing to hear about your society from a women living in it, rather than from the very black and white portrayal of Saudi Arabia we get in the mass media. You have a lot of positive and hopeful things to say, despite the serious challenges facing women in your country. I was especially fascinated to read about the status of non-Saudi women there. It was very moving to read your words, "I strongly think all women must collaborate and understand each other,rather than seeing each other as aliens." I hope you continue to share your voice as widely as possible and to encourage other women to connect to one another.

warmest regards,

Amy

PS I hope you are feeling better!

Leelee's picture

Great words - never too late

Great words - never too late to jump in ... you are so right, all I see on the news over here in Barbados about Saudi Arabia is that "women can't drive" and "head veils" as if that is all to your country. I really feel like I am getting the insiders scoop by reading the posts here and getting the REAL stories and not what the media conglomerates want us to know!

'Harlem: A Dream Deferred' - Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?

Farona's picture

Thank you Leelee ! you're

Thank you Leelee ! you're ENCOURAGING !
I am glad to have this platform to show another side of SA.
We, like any other women, worry about our kids, our society, education, infrastructure, helping others. Driving is certainly an issue for us which not only breaks int'l law but it's unconstitutional as well. If we follow the national law based on Islam then there is no statement that states 'women cannot drive' - so by imposing a ban on women driving, we are not following the constitution.
The ban is based on cultural sensitivities. You may not see women driving in major cities - but in rural area women have been driving for a long time and it's not unusual to see women driving around and the authorities does nothing to stop it since it's culturally acceptable there.

Julene's picture

Inspiring

Your post taught me a lot about your culture! You read so much about gender inequality all around the world, but your story goes deeper - inequality between classes of women! You've opened my eyes to the idea that it isn't just inequality between men and women, but that it goes into even more levels between women. Your post is very enlightening, and I am looking forward to reading more on your accomplishments of your goals in righting the wrongs of societies and any type of inequality.

Thank you,

Julene

Marti's picture

Dear Farona Thank you for

Dear Farona
Thank you for sharing in such a personal and intelligent way. As a woman with so many freedoms--freedoms I hope for for all women in the world, when I read about the control over women in Saudi Arabia, I am sometimes not very patient for change. I also realize that I do need to better understand what "‘rights/freedom’ from a Saudi women’s viewpoint" is, as you mention. When I read your practical, sensible expression of the challenges you describe, I am impressed by your ability to take a very strategic viewpoint, an obviously very practical viewpoint of how to bring about change. You sound like a "doer"--like someone who will put ideas into action and someone who will be inspired by incremental changes.

You must be very inspired by all of the commentary you have initiated through your writing--you've got people talking and sharing in a powerful way!

In partnership with you,
Marti

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