Saudi Arabia is not known for respecting human rights, and the current campaign for releasing the liberal Saudi blogger Raif Bedawi has shed light on the old phenomena of human rights abuses in the Gulf. But, like everywhere, there are exceptions to the rule.
The media group Tefaz 11 has produced a rap video shedding light on the situationen for foreign workers in the country, using the traditional tactics of humour and music to get their message through. The group is produced for Saudis, consisting of Saudis, showing that there is a diversity within Saudi Arabia and that everyone in the country does not support the discrimination that foreign workers are going though – or the human rights situationen as a whole.
See the video above, and below is a BBC clip portraying the people behind the video.
Women from the Gulf are not very common in media and an ordinary image of a Gulf woman is her dressed in nikab and abaya, not doing anything in particular.
My Kuwaiti friend who is so dedicated in showing the world different sides of the Gulf shared these photos with me. The explanations for the photos is from him and I have sometimes found more information about a certain person myself. He himself doesn’t have copyright has but downloaded them from different websites and shared them via his own social media. Therefore the copyright is unknown.
Enjoy the view of different beautiful women in different aspects of life.
Ibtisam Lufti, Saudi Arabian singer. Ibtisam belonged to the first generation of Saudi singers and achieved great success and popularity despite her handicap of being blind. Her main career took place in the 1970s and -80s and when announcing that she was leaving the scene it caused a public outrcry. Ibtisam is portrayed in the book “Women of Saudi Arabia” by Ali Fagandash. Year of the photo unknown.
Oman, late 1970s.
Aisha Al Marta, Kuwaiti singer, performing for women at a Kuwaiti wedding. Aisha is the third women from the left in the backrow. She was a Kuwaiti singer, born in 1934. Also Aisha was blind, she lost her sight at age 7. She joined a music group at age 14, secretely so as not to have any problems with her family. Later on she worked at Radio Kuwait and became an extremely popular folklore singer, performing traditional songs from the Gulf, famous for her patriotic songs. When she died in 1978 appearantly a national day of mourning was called for, and still “Aisha Al Marta” cultural events in her honor are being held in Kuwait. A Youtube video with Aisha you can see here. Year of the photo unknown.
Woman from Al Hijaz region, Saudi Arabia. Year unknown.
Women from Jaizan province, Saudi Arabia. Notice the difference in clothing between the women in this photo and the woman in the previous one.
Noor Al-Dubais (left) and Taammul Al-Dubais (right)
Photo credit: saudigazette.com.sa
Two sisters from Sanabis town on Tarout Island on the Eastern coast of Saudi Arabia made headlines this week as some of the few professional women divers in the country.
The local newspaper Saudi Gazette reports that Noor and Taammul Al-Dubais were raised in a seafaring family and that they have been surrounded by water all their lives. Noor was 5 when her father taught her how to breath under water and the sisters held their international diving licenses as 10 year olds. Now they wish to pass on their passion for diving to other girls. They are diving as a professional duo and have been diving on many different occasions.
They started to dive in the city of Jubail on the east coast, around Jana Island. Noor says to the newspaper Alsharq daily, regarding her diving experiences in the Red Sea off the coast of Jeddah:
”I swam among the beautiful coral reefs as if I was a bird flying in a garden. I enjoy diving because my soul separates from my body when I am at great depths.”
She says she finds guidance in her parents and that her friends from school encouraged her. The sisters’ father has been a great supporter and he himself is also a diver and a fisherman. He is also Noor’s and Taammul’s professional trainer and has designed a special diving suit for women that he said respects Saudi customs and traditions. Sports for Saudi women are not accepted by everyone and professional sports women in the Kingdom are an exception. But the sisters’ father says:
“Noor and Taammul are part of a diving family that loves to look for coral reefs and explore the magical waters of the Gulf. All of my sons and daughters are divers.”
Hopefully Noor and Taammul will set an example for many other brave young women around the world.
“Hi Jenny – this Saudi woman could be interesting for you to write about her” my half-Kuwaiti half-Saudi friend started her email to me the other day.
In the coastal city of Dammam, Saudi Arabia, an occurence has taken place that hasn’t yet reached English international news. The Saudi woman Nora Almoqateeb was able to open a new restaurant-concept in her own name, kitchen-run by all female, despite public pressure not to. When Nora came up with the concept for the restaurant Nooryat, the first official employee receiving the application refused to give her the license to open restaurant. As Nora describes in the video (unfortunately available in Arabic only):
“He threw the file in the drawer and said ‘Are you crazy? You want to mess up the country and the women? It’s forbidden!'”
But she didn’t give up instead went to research in the local laws. She didn’t find any single Saudi law preventing her and in the end she managed to get the license, then employed Saudi women to work with her in the kitchen. She says:
“I felt I was gunpowder wanting to explode. It exploded! I was determined to get the license.”
When Nora opened the restaurant Nooryat she was afraid to go there alone. The restaurant was watched all the time by people who want to try and find small mistakes so that the restaurant could be closed down. Nora’s female worker are all Saudi, and despite being proud of their job some of them are ashamed to admit that they are working as cooks, and are afraid to give their full name. But despite the resistance Nora didn’t cave in and the staff says that they admire Nora and consider her a great female idol for all Saudi women. Nora has been so determined to carry out her business that she sometimes sleeps in the restaurant when she has a big order to deliver. In fact the word Nooryat is associated to the Arabic word for light, such as the light that lights up a house.
Along the way she had big support from her own father, and the owner of the building where to restaurant resides says:
“The main problem is that men don’t except the idea that a woman leaves her home, work in a commercial building, and cook for people”.
Now the restaurant has been nominated to the local Israr Award for 2014 – “Israr” meaning “Determination”. Let’s keep our fingers crossed she will win.
Yesterday the world suddenly became a little better place to live – a Saudi woman graduated from the Dubai police academy, and according to the news she is the first Saudi woman ever to become a police officer!
Leaving few traces of herself online and unknown to international media before her graduation, Ayat Bakhreeba did not only become the first Saudi police officer ever. According to Riyadhconnect.com and other Gulf media, Ayat Bakhreeba is graduating in public law with a thesis research on children’s rights in the Saudi regime – a brave subject in a totalitarian regime. For a country that systematically discriminates women and children, this woman is taking a small step on the moon; which is a big step for humanity. Not that I’m surprised with the Saudi women, not at all. Things are shaking up in the kingdom.
Today on October 6 Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Justice is supposed to issue licenses for four female lawyers, that would make them eligible to work as lawyers in the country. Previously, Saudi women have only been able to work as legal consultants, meaning they could not open law firms or represent clients in court. With the change in practice, not only could the Saudi female lawyers now practice the profession they spent years educating themselves to exercise, it would also mean that women who are trials now have the right to have a woman representing them for the first time ever. Women who are meeting their ex-husbands in court over custody battles and in the very few cases of domestic violence brought to court, women often found themselves being the losing one, no matter how strong her case was. With professional women in the legal system women will at least have a voice in the court room.
On social websites the news was flooded with comments from all sides. Not everyone was positive to the potential impact it will have on the society. “Baby steps” a comment on the link that the Facebooksite Saudi Women to Drive shared with the news; “Where will they work?” asked another. It’s impossible for me not to agree on the criticism, but baby steps with Western standards for gender equality is in Saudi Arabia a game where Saudi Women today scored 1-0 against the gender apartheid system.
Saudi Arabia is being ridiculed world wide for their ban on women’s right to drive; vote; work in various number of professions; sitting next to men in coffee houses, etc. I pity Saudi sometimes as their backwards regulations prevents the international community to see the other sides of the country. Saudi supposedly has many beautiful places in the country side and the city of Jeddah would make an excellent tourist city with it’s long boardwalk along the seaside. But Saudi authorities refuse to open up the country like it’s fellow Gulf neighbours have done, despite the financial advantages it would entail.
What I would like to bring to your attention is the strive for development that do exist within the Saudi community itself. Not everyone are satisfied with the regulations that prevents freedom and drains resources from the development of the country. Only on Facebook there are a number of pages supporting women’s rights: Saudi Women to Drive and Free Saudi Women for example. In 2011 the women’s rights activist Manal al-Sharif filmed herself driving and posted the video on Youtube, in which she discussed the problems the ban on driving caused women and how it could lead to dangerous situations when women might need to drive somewhere in case of an emergency. For this she was arrested and released on bail, on the conditions that she wouldn’t speak with media.
Also last year, a female film director named Haifaa al-Mansour released the movie Wadjda, that portraits an 11-year-old girl who dreams about riding a green bicycle -culturally this is not accepted even for small girls.
I do feel for poor Saudi when it’s being ridiculed internationally, but the other day on April 1st, the ban on women riding bicycles was lifted, and Saudi Women to Drive posted a link from Al Arabiya with their own comment on their newfound freedom: “At last, Saudi women are allowed to cruise on bikes and buggies!! What a joke! Happy April Fool Day!“