The Princess Diaries by Joy Fahey (6)
The sense of family and family values are very strong attributes in the Saudi culture, they really do ‘look after’ their own. Despite the many restrictions the women have to endure they are very rarely ‘abandoned’ and left to fend for themselves. My situation being a women living on my own and supporting myself is something that wouldn’t happen in Saudi’ or it’s very rare. The family would automatically take care of me and my finances if I was widowed or divorced.
This obviously has its advantages but it also means that women are always under the control of the family and in particular the men, not what I would want!! It becomes more and more obvious that the gap between the Saudi culture and our western culture is vast. However I wonder how long it will stay that way?
I was thinking about this after meeting the Princesses daughter in law and her other son at lunch yesterday. It was an interesting conversation and without probing too much I discovered that the Princesses daughter in law had been to University and had gone onto working within the University and indeed the Princesses daughter was doing a degree.
Over a newly begun painting I casually asked the Princess about women working in Saudi. She told me that women were allowed to do only certain jobs which included retail and hospitality, newspaper editors and TV chat-show hosts and a few are now employed for diplomatic services. She also told me that the first Saudi female lawyers were granted their practicing certificates in late 2013
Changes have also been made in the education sector. Universities have expanded the areas of study available to female students, which now include law and architecture and girls accounted for about half of all Saudi university graduates last year.
Still, there’s a long way to go and I decided to do some more research myself and discovered that women make up about 16% of the Saudi workforce in total. Other rules governing women’s behaviour are still in place: Saudi women have to be accompanied by a male chaperon known as a ‘mahram’ when outside the house and are restricted in the amount of time they can spend with male strangers. Interestingly however, everything in Saudi Arabia “operates on a sliding scale, depending on who you are, whom you know, whom you ask, whom you’re with, and where you are”.
So asking the Princess these questions as opposed to ‘ordinary’ Saudi women might be slightly bias, but nevertheless generally things are slowly beginning to modernise in a country that has historically had some of the most repressive attitudes towards women.
All this fascinating conversation whilst painting this fascinating painting
It’s hard to process all these rules and regulations, the things I just take for granted can’t even be considered as a Saudi woman. It’s quite extraordinary to even imagine living under that regime.
I left feeling hugely grateful for all the freedom I have to come and go as I please.
I was beginning to understand this whole scenario was far more complex than I could have possibly imagined when I first started and why painting was so important for the Princess, as it was a subtle but very powerful outlet for emotional expression
More to come tomorrow!
Joy Fahey ‘Where Art and Life Meet’
Written and published by: Joy Fahey
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