Special to Clarion Project by Anwar El-Iraqi
Hind, 43, lives with her elderly mother. She paints, swims, writes poetry, plays soccer and enjoys fixing electrical items and motor vehicles – a “veritable man trapped in a woman’s body,” she said in an interview with Clarion contributor Anwar El-Iraqi.
Hind follows Clarion Project on Twitter. The following is Anwar’s full interview with Hind which was conducted via WhatsApp:
Clarion: What are the main obstacles standing before you and other Saudi women, and how do you overcome them?
Hind: Nothing is easy, so it’s hard to talk about things that are particularly difficult. There’s nothing we can do. We can’t really live. We can’t register for school or study unless it’s via our guardian. We can’t travel unless it’s with a guardian. We can’t even get an ID card unless it’s via someone who knows you.
We can only go out if we are on foot or if we stop a car and pay the driver a huge amount much to take us. All a Saudi woman owns is the clothes she wears and a small amount of money (which buys little).
Saudi women simply can’t make decisions concerning themselves.
A woman should be given rights across the board. She should earn a proper wage. She should be able to drive her own vehicle. I shouldn’t have to order a driver to take me around.
Here’s something that actually happened today: My driver is sick right now. The supermarket is three kilometers (two miles) from my house and I wanted to buy bread. I stood by my home for 90 minutes to find a ride. More than 40 cars passed. Half were driven by underage drivers. Not a single taxi passed. There’s no public transport here.
A woman should be as free as a man.
The Prophet, may peace be upon him, didn’t stop women buying and selling or riding animals. A woman needs to take care of the home and children but the Prophet said also a man must take care of his home and family.
We have a backwards concept of social values that’s totally disconnected from religion. The woman is the only one responsible for the house, while the man is off enjoying himself.
Clarion: What about job opportunities?
Hind: I am a graduate of the faculty of Islamic studies. I was looking for a job in the Public Services Department but this ministry is cursed and all jobs are obtained via nepotism. I tried to get a job in remote villages. I applied 100 times. Finally, it became an online process (which made it even worse). For 14 years, many other women besides me (all with bachelor’s degrees) applied to no avail.
Meanwhile, the children of the princes and ministers get what they want and earn plenty.
I used to work in the public schools of princesses. I couldn’t continue working there. My heart was filled with such hatred and hostility because of the injustices we face from the government run by the House of al-Saud. They number more than 3,000 and live an exaggeratedly comfortable life. They’re cut off from their people.
Clarion: How’s your financial situation?
Hind: I’m involved in small commercial projects that don’t require permits, but the income doesn’t cover even my most basic needs.
My major project sadly failed. It was something I was working on secretly because I was afraid of jealousy. Our unwise government obligates women to be approved by no less than four people in order to open a business. It’s as if the government says everyone around you must know what you are doing. You don’t have the right to hide your business from anyone.
Now I receive income support of 800 rials ($213) a month. The government tries to make the people poor and needy so they’ll spend all their time trying to make money. You can just imagine how a woman does in these conditions.
It’s hard to hear some the stories women here relate.
Clarion: What about younger women?
Hind: There’s a punishment here known as “The Girl’s House.” It’s imprisonment for those at the youngest punishable age (mid-teens). They’re arrested for crimes linked to honor. We’re talking about really serious sharia violations. They are punished in accordance with sharia law with imprisonment, whipping or whatever the judge believes is fitting.
In addition, a girl can spend time in jail but at the end of her sentence, if her guardian doesn’t come to pick her up, she can stay incarcerated for life. Alternatively, a person can simply show up at the prison and insist on marrying her.
This is not Islamic.
Clarion: Can you play sports or swim?
Hind: Yes but only in a health club. There are no sport clubs. I was looking to swim for more than 10 years. I swim in the hospital or in the health club that belongs to the hospital.
A while ago I heard about a vacation resort in Jeddah (I’m from Mecca). I would need to travel 70 kilometers (43 miles) just to swim for 30-60 minutes.
But I heard they have beautiful pools there, so I went. When I asked about the cost, the receptionist said one has to be a guest of the hotel. Eventually she said I could swim there for 500 rials ($133).
So I said to her, “You want me to swim for an hour and pay 75% of my monthly salary?”
I underwent a medical procedure in Jordan after I borrowed money from a wealthy member of my family. I needed it after seven years of suffering in Riyadh’s hospitals. Now I’m paying off the debt.
Now I need swimming as a natural treatment and not just as a hobby — I’ve abandoned all my dreams and hobbies.
I tried emigrating but I can’t. I have an elderly mother, and because I am the youngest in the family, I am responsible for her.
Clarion: Are you allowed to speak with a male you don’t know?
Hind: Yes, I can. All women in Saudi Arabia can speak with a man they don’t know. There’s no problem if it’s not somewhere secluded. This is a religious edict. The Prophet (PBUH) said a woman and man should not sit alone in a closed place. If they do, the devil will be the third person in the room.
While an honorable woman wouldn’t do anything, gossip could affect her standing.
Clarion: Where is there separation between women and men?
Hind: There’s no real separation because these days women work in hospitals alongside men.
Clarion: Do the authorities tackle violence against women?
Hind: Only in public announcements. There are no investigations or offices of human rights organizations. The government doesn’t do enough to help families. Families in my country are used to a religious way of life.
Clarion: Can a woman choose her marriage partner or must the family arrange it?
Hind: This [arranged marriage] is the sharia way. A woman wouldn’t even consider violating it. She knows marriage conditions are defined in sharia. If we acted fully according to sharia law we’d be at the peak of democracy. Our problem isn’t with sharia but with customs and traditions that predate Islam.
If a guardian imposes his will on a woman she can’t get her sharia rights.
If she calls the police they won’t come to her home. Their first question is, “What is your relationship with your assailant?”
If she says, “It’s my father,” or “It’s my brother” or “It’s my husband,” the police will never come.
Clarion: Do you know any women who drive cars?
Hind: I don’t know women that drive besides some who live in villages and other remote places. Saudi women can’t get driving licenses. If I were to simply get in a car and drive, they’d confiscate the car, call in my guardian and humiliate me. I’d be fined and receive other harsh penalties.
If I could launch a world war to fight for my right on this, I’d gladly do so.
Clarion: Is the source of these restrictions the religion or the authorities?
Hind: This doesn’t come from religion but from the government and legislature. The government claims its authority comes from sharia but I’ve learned sharia and the things they say don’t exist in the religion.
They are forbidding what God and His messenger permitted. This is simply not Islam.
They are deliberately strangling us.
Clarion: What do you feel Saudi women need?
Hind: Something that’s sparkling in the sky that I can’t reach.
We don’t ask for much: a job, a respected life, all rights, not living under patriarchal hegemony.
Clarion: What would you like non-Saudi’s to know?
Hind: There are many here that support Saudi women’s rights, even the late King Abdullah and now king Salman, but they fear criticism from religious and tribal groupings. If it wasn’t for the stigma many people would publicly support Saudi women’s rights.
Anwar El-Iraqi is a contributor to Clarion Project.
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