Jiddah, Saudi Arabia

  • Date
  • 14 November 2000

In the countryside for a couple of days, we saw only two women. The society is all male from my view. Locals tell me that outside Jiddah and Riyadh, women don’t get out, they don’t shop for groceries, they don’t pick up their children from school, and they stay at home with an average of six children.

People who live here say the real working labor comes from outside Saudi Arabia – many Filipino and Asian immigrants. “Saudis think being Saudi is enough work,” is how one businessman put it. But business owners pay no taxes so “the government forces us to pay ‘taxes’ by hiring inefficient Saudi men”.

Streets of Jiddah are lined with expensive shops and even more expensive car dealerships. Women – even foreign females with international driving permits – cannot drive. A ‘revolt’ in Riyadh back in the 90s where Saudi women took the car keys of their husbands and brothers and made for the highway led to the government canceling all work contracts with any companies connected with the families of these women. Also I can’t work out in the gym at our hotel – Kingdom law prohibits women. The sexes have separate elevators in work places as well as segregated seating in restaurants and aboard public transportation.

Expatriate men must write permission for their wives to travel (outside of their approved living zone) without them. Even the expatriate men must get permission from their sponsor (employer) to travel outside of their approved zone. Saudi women are listed on husband’s passport and Saudi wives, mothers, daughters, females in general cannot travel without a chaperone of a male family member (closely enough related as not marriageable). Plus restrictions on visiting the Kingdom are dire – one man (who has lived and worked here over 30 years) cannot get a visa for his 74 year old Egyptian mother without providing marriage certificate et al. for the widow.

I wanted to visit the all-female university here but locals have advised against this as I’d need official permission to enter the campus, which would take a month, and ‘just showing up’ isn’t recommended.

With these restrictions and limitations, the country survives and thrives as one of the richest in the world.