We’re All Laila: Stockholm Syndrome

This post is part of “We’re All Laila” blogging day, which is a call to review values and prevalent ideas related to females, and how society enacts them with no consideration of their impact on women themselves. The call here is not to propagate a certain value or culture, but it is rather a call to criticize and review our own daily behavior, with a true desire to change and purify our attitudes in life from tendencies of oppression that we consciously –and unconsciously– enact to the weaker side in the society, rather than confronting its real causes. Therefore, participation is open and welcoming each and everyone, from Egypt and Arab countries, men and women, bloggers and simple citizens whom we will voice and share their experience on the internet. Everyone is absolutely free to express their opinions the way they like, as long as they believe in such opinions, and are fully responsible for them on personal basis, and are ready to defend these opinions against whatever attacks or counter-opinions that they may face; and even one should have readiness for change and being convinced if one’s opinion is proven wrong or incomplete.

Stockholm Syndrome
By Maha al-Faleh

I know that for those who know who I am, I would be judged for what I’m about to say. Others would see me as a spoiled girl who just want more. It’s true, I’ve been blessed with perfect parents, my father is a man who believes in women’s empowerment, and my brothers respect the strength of their sisters and embrace them. Basically, I have lived and was raised in a family who wouldn’t stop their girls from following their dreams.

Yet there is something missing here, and I cannot pretend that I’m ok with it. I’m the kind of girl who would always say at the end of a conversation, “hay come on, things ain’t that bad,” or would say, “well, we are lucky and blessed with many things and I’m just thankful.” I’ll be the girl who always try to be positive.

Maybe It’s true; things for Saudi women aren’t always as bad, especially when portrayed by the western media. I hate it when people act like we are waiting for the ultimate salvation, but as I start saying these words to myself, I wonder: have I been just numbing myself? And I start to realize that I might be suffering from what I think is Stockholm syndrome. For those who don’t know what ‘Stockholm syndrome’ is, it’s when a hostage shows signs of loyalty to the hostage-taker. I know I can be literally crucified by some for saying that my country is taking a hostage of me, but I think since I was lucky to be raised in an open-minded community, it might had stopped me from seeing what challenges other girls are facing.

I know this might sound a bit contradicting, because although I already identified what problems Saudi women face, I think we started to grow accustomed to our problems. We started trying to enjoy our lives, ignoring what’s happing to other women. We are making what used to annoy us a little bit more tolerable. I’m not saying that this is always wrong. In fact, it can be healthy sometimes, but our ways has no difference from those who suffer from Stockholm syndrome; we stopped seeing what’s wrong, we are not getting shocked anymore.

After I graduated from college, I started working in one of the biggest women philanthropic organizations in Riyadh. I started then to see a world different than mine and things came crushing down, seeing a large percentage of women here are suffering from poverty, abuse, and many many more tragic cultural issues. I started to become angry. What about those women? What will they do? And have they been suffering from the same syndrome as I am? Many of them are actually accepting such lives when they don’t know that they don’t have to. I know that in every society in the world we find a segment that suffers from such condition because of poverty and lack of education, and this is not a special case of Saudi Arabia, but that’s not an excuse for us young women to ignore.

I no longer work for this organization as I moved to another place. But I remember that on my last day at work, a girl came in, she was my age, apparently relatively poor, and her eyes were so filled with pain. She asked me if there was someone who can help her to get a job, but since it was late at night and no one was around I told her kindly to come tomorrow morning. She then started begging me for help. She said that her father is trying to force her into remarrying her ex-husband, an old man who used to beat her. She held my hand crying and said that she doesn’t want to marry that man. I ended up crying with that girl. I talked to one of the my superiors that night and I was able to provide some money for her that might help her. She told me she wasn’t here for the money and she wanted a job, so I told her that it will help her till she gets one. She wanted to talk, and as she later told me her story with details, I tried to comfort her and I encouraged her to speak with her father and tell him that no religion or logic accepts what he is doing; that she has the right to go the human rights society here in Riyadh.

Deep down inside I knew this girl won’t go to the human rights society, I knew she won’t revolt. I was so sad and felt helpless, I provided her with money and a shoulder to lean on for 30 minutes, but what about later, I asked my self, who will save this girl?

The girl called me two months later telling me that she has enrolled in nursing school, and that she is not going to marry this man. I don’t know if my words helped her, I don’t know if the money actually helped her. All I know is that this girl felt better just expressing her frustration. Were my words of any help at all? I’ll never know. All I know that she is not marrying this man and she might get control over her life.

This girl was my age, she was living a life totally different from mine, she had no control over her life, while to an extent I did with mine, but I think when we both met, our worlds crashed together, and all things that we both took for granted, all the numbed feelings inside were awaken, I felt that my lucky life shouldn’t stop me from seeing what other women are facing.

My message here is not to my country, and not to the government because their role should be in another chapter, but to the girls and women of my country: get off your high horse, look around you, speak up! Most of the oppression is not made by our country, it’s made by our silence, by our lack of interest, or sometimes because we are too oblivious to our surroundings. Look out for each other, help those who didn’t have the chance to speak, give them hope and guidance, we should stop expecting our county to make decisions for us.

I salute all brave women who regularly go to the poor areas in my city such as Ghobera and Faisalya and many more around the country. Those who reach out for oppressed women, call for their right, educate them. Those who would spare their money and leisure time just to help unprivileged women get on their feet. These women taught me a lot, they know who they are, and never ask for any credit because they are the true Saudi women who shook off their own Stockholm syndrome.

Maha al-Faleh is a talented, hard-working young Saudi woman. We met last year during my trip to the US, and I was very impressed by her intelligence, courage and determination. When I asked her to contribute to Saudi Jeans on this special day, she generously agreed and wrote this beautiful post. In other words, she rocks, and that’s all you need to know :-)

Double-team for Women’s Employment

In my post last February on women’s employment I asked if whether we were moving towards more regulation or more segregation. According to a directive issued last week by Prince Khaled al-Faisal, Governor of Mecca, I guess regulation it is.

The directive, which was published in local media last Wednesday, is based on a letter sent by Labor Minister Ghazi al-Gosaibi who emphasized that the new labor law has deleted the clause banning women from working in mixed workplaces, and replaced it with a new clause that applies to both genders stating that “both the employer and employee must adhere to the law in conformity with Sharia.”

Now this last statement may sound vague and ill-defined, but it is still worthy of attention because the letter also affirmed that the Ministry of Labor is the government’s body responsible for regulating women’s working and that any involvement by other government’s bodies is unacceptable, in what seems to be a hint to the Commission and their sympathizers who keep nosing into these issues.

However, and as we have previously seen many times in the magic kingdom, writing laws is one thing and implementing them is quite another, especially when you don’t have an elected parliament to monitor the performance of government and question them when they fail to achieve their announced goals.

It was Ghazi al-Gosaibi who has tried three years ago to make working in women’s shops limited to Saudi women before he had to back down after fierce opposition by conservatives. What is different this time, though, is that he is not fighting alone. The support of Khaled al-Faisal, a figure many conservatives hate as much as they hate al-Gosaibi, could be the push the government need to put the laws in effect. It remains to be seen how crucial is this support will be.

UPDATE: In his column in Al Hayat today Abdul-Aziz al-Suwaid makes a good point about the vagueness of the law, asking MOL to define clear guidelines to protect women should they come under harassment. I totally agree.

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Segregation or Regulation?

Although I have tried to register to participate at the 7th National Dialogue, I never received to a response from the organizers and therefore I have had to watch the dialogue on television.

This round of the National Dialogue, which took place earlier this week, focused on the dilemma of employment from different angles. The hottest topic, of course, was women’s employment. Now almost everyone agrees that we need to create more job opportunities for women; the disagreement, however, arises when it comes to how to approach and address this problem. More specifically, the disagreement is over how to define the proper work environment for women.

Two trends can be seen here. First, there are those who believe that in order to encourage more women to join the workforce we have to provide separate workplaces for them. They cite the example of the education sector, the field where 85% of working women in the country are in, and argue that the government should push in that direction.

However, I believe these guys are ignoring two important things: the fact that following education, the second field where most women are employed is the healthcare sector which is not segregated, and also the fact that many women chose to work at the education sector simply for the lack of other options, even if that choice means sometimes working in remote areas and being away from their families and putting themselves in danger of lethal car accidents.

The other trend regarding women’s employment in the dialogue argue that strict interpretations of religion and old social norms have only halted the development of the country and slowed down the growth of our economy. The insistence on providing separate work places for women, they say, is costly and impractical as it makes it difficult to keep a smooth workflow. Moreover, even if the government decided to go with that option, they won’t be able to force business to do the same.

Instead of separate workplaces, what they propose instead is writing new laws and regulation to create and maintain safe work environments that give equal opportunities and protect employees, especially women.

I expect this debate to continue, and I think we need to wait and see which argument of these two will attract more followers and prevail, or probably we will have to make some compromises and end up with a third way and a middle ground. The economic factor will be decisive here because, as one participant pointed out, the ever increasing living costs will mean that the one salary (currently the man’s) will no longer be enough to support a family.

I agree with Fatin Bundagji when she says that the idea of the national dialogue, even if it did not amount to obvious immediate results, is a good idea. And even though I was not invited to attend the dialogue at Makarem Ballroom in the Marriott, it was certainly refreshing for me to follow it and see my countrymen and women debate and take part in this conversation, which signifies, among many things, a change in mindset and a newfound respect for diversity, as well as a better understanding between the different faction in our society.

The Kingdom of (in)humanity

As if Yakin Ertürk, the special rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Violence Against Women, needed more issues to talk about during her 10-day visit to the Kingdom, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice have decided to give her one more reason to tell us how we should treat our women (and men for that matter), and gosh how they hate it when they do that.

This sorry incident involving a Saudi-American businesswoman arrested in Riyadh for sitting in a Starbucks coffee shop with an unrelated man occurred on the same day Ertürk arrived to meet government officials, members of the Shoura Council and academics as well as individual victims of violence against women. She will subsequently report her findings to the UN Human Rights Council.

I’m glad that the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) have decided to speak out and stand up for the woman. They described the manner in which she was strip-searched in prison as “inhuman,” but to me the whole ordeal from the moment she was arrested is inhuman.

After recounting the outrageous violations committed by the Commission member against the women, an NSHR official said they will raise the issue with the Governorate of Riyadh. Moreover, the official said that they will ask the governorate that the woman be compensated for the damages she sustained.

However, based on past experiences with incidents involving the Commission, I think it is very unlikely that the governorate will hold them accountable for their misbehavior. Actually, one of the main problems with the Commission is the magnitude of power given to them in Riyadh that allow them to violate basic human rights and invade people’s privacy. Compare the situation in the capital to that in Jeddah and you will see what I mean. I think we are going to hear the same old rhetoric about how the Commission is not responsible for the mistakes its members make even if it resulted in the death of citizens.

I have said it many times before and I will say it again: until the government is serious about setting clear guidelines on what this Commission can and can’t do, we will continue to hear about atrocities like this one. In the past, many things like these used to pass unnoticed because people were too afraid to speak out against them, but times have changed and it is up to the people now to stand up for their rights.

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Jeddah: Gurlz vs. Guyz

jeddah_boysI have said it before and I shall say it again and again: those Jeddawis never fail to impress me. Their latest is a 12-minute documentary featuring young men and women who talk about their views about the opposite sex and dating.

As I have said in a recent post, dating is a risky business in Saudi Arabia, and to have a documentary discussing it this way is truly amazing. The short film is produced by Izzaty Islamy, a two-year-old girl’s social club that sponsors monthly discussions and has conducted debate events at Dar Al-Hekma College and the International Medical Center. I can’t wait to get my hands on the film and watch it; and since it’s only 12-minute long the group might consider uploading it to YouTube or something like that.