Gulf Women in Photos

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 70s

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.

Saudi Arabia Al Hijaz

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.

Spring in Kuwait

Different glimpses of the small gulf country that few people on the outside know much about. These photos are from when I lived in Kuwait 2007-2008, more presicely in the spring of 2008. Oh, and did I tell you how much I enjoyed the country?

 

 

 

 

Photo copyright: Sweden and the Middle East Views

 

There’s More to Dubai Than the Scyscrapers

I admit it, I have a thing for the Gulf. And Dubai is more than the expats, more than the oil, more than the fast money. There are beautiful places worth seeing, if you go off the beaten tracks.

These photos date a few years back to one of my trips to Dubai.

Photo copyrights: Sweden and the Middle East Views Blog

Women Owned Restaurant in Saudi Arabia Breaking New Ground

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.

First Saudi Policewoman Ever to Graduate!

ayat bakhreeba

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.

Photo credit: Emirates247.com

Saudi Women – Gender Apartheid: 1-0

General court in RiyadhFinally a change that’s not an April fool’s joke!

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.

I’d prefer to say: What’s next?

Photo credit: rt.com/AFP Photo

So You Desperately Need a Maid?

I still receive comments on my previous post Campaign for Domestic Worker’s Rights in Kuwait, which I’m happy for as it obviously still sparks discussion.  And I decided want to discuss this issue a bit further. Let’s not talk about the human rights of the staff but about the very conditions of having a maid in your home.

Many times I have heard people saying that there are two sides of the coin when discussing the situation for domestic staff in the Gulf, talking about unreliable house staffs that are not doing their job or violating rules. I’ve heard of staff abusing the kids they’re babysitting, staff seducing the husband, seducing the drivers, seducing each other, stealing money and running off. I’ve been asked if I would like to have a person living with me who I couldn’t trust either with work tasks or with my kids.

So here’s my take on things.

No, I wouldn’t want someone to hit my kids or steal my things. I wouldn’t want to live with someone I didn’t trust or felt uncomfortable with. I would be angry too if that happened to me. So guess what? I wouldn’t bring someone to live in my house in the first place.

Because it’s risky to leave your kids to a stranger, who is not supervised during the days and who probably doesn’t have a special training to care for kids. Add to that being discriminated in the society you live in, having men asking you for sex on the street only because you’re Asian and they assume you’re a prostitute, and a forced separation from your family back home, maybe even your own children. Then you don’t have much love to give to someone elses kids. And if that person also will feel hurt or offended by you – do you think they will feel a natural will to care and love your kids? If you’re worried, why do you even put yourself and your kids in that situation?

And this question of mine brings us to the next page, which is “I have to have a maid”. This is the origin of all the maid-talk among women in beauty salons and coffee shops in the Gulf, the constant complaining and bickering. They have to have a maid but trust none of them. What keeps puzzling me when I hear these conversations is, do these women have 14 kids like Octomom in America? Probably not. Are they working poor, holding down two full time jobs in order to be able to pay their rent, why they never have the time to clean the house? Probably not. So why do they so desperately need a maid?

I could here give an account for my girlfriends throughout the years that ended up single parents and were managing each day on their own; school, the extra job, picking up/bringing to school/bringing to the doctor the kids, changing diapers, carrying grocery bags, washing, cleaning and cooking. But I won’t, because I know that you who need to have a maid know these single moms, too. I just have to ask: if the majority of the world’s population can manage it without a maid, why can’t you?

Photo credit: Vimeo.com

Whatever You Do, Don’t Get Raped in Dubai

In the Gulf and especially Dubai, prostitution is available everywhere. Online, at clubs and bars, in private parties. Young girls locked up or seemingly free; Asian, African, Eastern European. My experience is that prostitution is so common and accepted it’s hardly attached to any stigma for the buyers (“Why should I visit a whore?” a man once told me. “I get lots of women, I don’t have to pay!”). For being an Islamic country, this exception seems to exist within any moral remorses with the leadership.

So what’s the deal if you are forced to have sex against your will, if you get raped? The same legal system that overlooks the brutal sex trafficking will most likely confine you for having sex outside the institution of marriage and punish you as the victim instead. This goes for men and women, underage as well as adults.

This week the news broke that the Norwegian woman in Dubai, Marte Deborah Dalelv, who had been accused of premarital sex after reporting a rape to the authorities, was being “pardoned” and did not have to do her previously sentenced punishment in jail. Throughout the process she had been hiding in a Norwegian church in Dubai and international media had monitored the case over the past year. Now would a woman who was not white, westerner and with huge international support have been “pardoned” from the sentence? Probably not. And what else is, Marte’s rapist was pardoned at the same time.

Now many other countries have increased their legal support for victims of violence and sexual violence; in 2011 Iraqi Kurdistan passed a law that forbade domestic violence and in for example Lebanon there is a big network of women’s shelters with legal and social support for victims. Despite their financial lead, Dubai is still many years behind.

Campaign for Domestic Worker’s Rights in Kuwait

Human Rights Watch has launched Campaign for Domestic Worker’s Rights. The campaign is illustrated with photos of Arab women dressed in the costumes that many of the workers have to wear when on duty – which often is 15 hours per day, 7 days a week. Hopefully this will make people think.

I have repeatedly become surprised over how people’s brains stop working when exposed to something abnormal being normal – Arabs, Europeans, Americans alike – which is what the trafficking situation of poor people from Asia and Africa to the Middle East is today. I won’t dig into the subject of why you can’t clean your own house or raise your own kids, but on how today’s knowledge about human rights for some people seem to have vanished.

When living in Kuwait I had a friend from Eastern Europe who had married an Arab man residing in the country. She was a great girlfriend; caring, funny and smart, and I missed her a lot when moving. Going back to visit a few years later, she and her husband had got their first child and employed a live-in-maid, and suddenly I saw a new side of her. The woman they had employed, let’s call her Maria, was not allowed to call my friend and her husband by their first names, instead ”sir” and “maam”.

“If you let them call you by your name they will disrespect you, you can’t give them too much freedom,” my friend explained.

All house chores had been given to Maria who worked from 6 am to 10 pm without a break. She was not allowed go out on her own or make her own decisions about what to do during the day, had to follow my friend wherever she went, walking a few steps behind with all the bags and the trolley that she pushed the toddler in, when my friend was out with her girlfriends on one of their many shopping tours to the mall.

My friend thought she was nice to Maria. She could eat how much she wanted and slept in a bed in the child’s playroom – “Not on the floor like with the Kuwaiti families”. My friend didn’t seem to reflect on how Maria might feel when my friend called her stupid or criticized her for not doing anything right (I noticed this among many, the constantly criticizing of the domestic staff, as if they get a kick out of putting them down).

Now I happened to like Maria as a person and we spent some time talking. It turned out she had a university degree in her Asian home country and previously had a qualified job that she had lost, why her last way out if keeping her own child in a private school was to go abroad as a domestic worker. The experience had been a shock and she found herself not able to return as she had signed a two year contract and had her passport taken away. I suggested I ask my other friends about jobs in her field of experience and we secretly exchanged numbers. My research didn’t lead to anything but we kept in touch after I left. She often called and texted, feeling so alone and exposed.

Then a few weeks later my friend’s husband emailed me. My friend had taken Maria’s mobile to check on her and had read my messages. She and her husband were furious I had kept in touch with Maria and urged her to get a better job. This is an excerpt from the e-mail:

I would really like to thank you for treating your friends who were soo good, honest, loveable to you and accepted you in their home not as a guest but as a very close person. We are very surprised of the way you cheated us and tried to contact our nanny from our back and tried to help her to leave us and finding a job because you persuaded her that she’s over qualified to be a nanny…  If you think that you are supporting women right by encourage her to do what she did and leave us then let me tell you that you destroyed our lovely family and destroyed her life as well.

He ended the e-mail by telling story I had heard before, on how Maria had felt so empowered by me that she had brought home a man and had sex with him in a room next to where the child had been sleeping. The story is one version of many used to justify what happens if you give your maids “too many rights”; Asians are not only unintelligent, they are also sexually primitive if you fail to control them. Do you know your history? African–Americans were once considered the same way by whites.

My friend blocked me on all social websites we had been in touch through and we never spoke again. I don’t know what happened to Maria – the control must have increased and I assumed it was safer for her not to be in touch with me as I anyways was far away from Kuwait and had no means of helping her.

Human Rights Watch’s campaign is much needed in a time when again human rights doesn’t apply to people of color, and I wish it leads to some sort of change. If I could speak to my friend I would explain to her why I had urged Maria to leave and that I hadn’t mean to hurt my friend – but I wouldn’t say I’m sorry. And if I were in the same situation I would do what I did again, even if it meant losing a close friend. I know some people would say I’m fanatic. I say I’m normal.

Photocredit: Human Rights Watch