Treatment of Women in Saudi Arabia

The following is a repost from a now-defunct set of forums on I thought it so valuable that I hunted around recently until I found a zipped archive some sage person created of the entire set of forums, thousands of discussions and quite a lot of good material relating to science, religion, and philosophy. The OP, a chap who goes by the name ‘Durro’, was also a Moderator– I hope he doesn’t mind the repost.

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Treatment of Women in Saudi Arabia – OP

Postby Durro » Thu Sep 20, 2007 10:17 am

After mentioning on another thread recently that I had spent several years in Saudi Arabia, I have been requested by a few people to share some stories about life there, with particular reference to how women are treated in a strict, fundamentalist Islamic society. My wife and I are Australians (hence some of the funny spelling to you Americans and Canadians). We are healthcare workers who lived and worked in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia from June 1993 to December 1998. I am a Radiographer and my wife Leanne is a Nurse and Midwife who spent 4.5 years in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and 1 year in the IVF clinic. We got to see firsthand what life is like under an oppressive Islamic regime. Now, where to start ?

My wife Leanne dressed for going out in public in Riyadh


As an overview, Saudi Arabia is a very strict Islamic society. Think Taliban ruled Afghanistan or Ayatollah controlled Iran as a comparison. The King of Saudi Arabia (nice enough guy, we got on well together when I x-rayed him) is the absolute ruler of the Kingdom. His word is literally law and there is almost no democracy as we know it, save for a King appointed “consultative council” of cronies who tow the line. In 2004, Saudi Arabia also introduced voting for local councillors in municipal elections but there is no voting for national leadership. Dissention is vigorously pursued and punished, often resulting in imprisonment without trial. For a reference on this, see the Amnesty International Website at

The media is tightly controlled and TV is limited and censored (except satellite TV, the saving grace of expatriates). For example, on Saudi TV, the Flintstones cartoon is censored. Fred comes home, yells “Wilma, I’m home”, they go to kiss each other and CHOP ! It cuts to another scene in the cartoon, often resulting in disjointed story lines. The Saudi news (there is a Saudi produced English speaking channel) is a propaganda vehicle for the government and shows either Islamic religious programs, children’s shows, soccer matches or selective “news” that is mostly shots of the royal family doing their thing whilst classical music plays over top (no royal dialogue is aired).

There are police checkpoints on major roads and highways, and you have to carry your internal passport (Iqama) with you at all times. To travel outside your city of employment and residence, you need a written permission form from your employer. You do not retain your passport when you arrive – your employer is legally obliged to hold it – but you are issued an internal ID – the Iqama. There is arrest without trial, and the laws of the land are both harsh and skewed in favour of Saudis and Saudi Men in general. There is capital punishment for murder, rape, drug trafficking, apostasy, homosexuality and blasphemy in the form of beheadings for men and stonings for women. However, I have been told that stonings have been modernised, and rather than cast individual stones at the women, the condemned is buried halfway in the ground inside a white sack and a dump truck full of rocks is backed up and tipped up over them. That’s progress for you I suppose.

There is arrest without trial for some political prisoners and there are a number of “lesser” offences where the punishment is flogging or hand chopping. There is no upper limit to the number of lashes that can be dished out, and generally they are delivered in lots of around 20 to 50 – the amount most people can stand before passing out. You are not allowed to photograph public buildings and photographing in general is frowned upon. I only have a limited number of photos to share with you as we took relatively few during our time there.

The country is strictly Islamic and don’t think about conducting Christian religious ceremonies – a Christian “preacher” who proselytized in public was beheaded there when we were there. Taxi drivers are sometimes paid to be informers about Christian ceremonies. We know of one guy – the husband of one of my wife’s Filipino nursing colleagues – who was jailed for 2 years without trial for running a Christian “church” group in his own private house with several friends. A taxi driver informed on them when some passengers talked about where they were headed to each other. He was eventually deported, after being whipped (formal punishment), beaten and raped (the joys of Saudi jails) repeatedly during his jail time.

Under Saudi law, it takes 3 women to exceed the testimony of 1 man. So if a man commits a crime and two women testify against him, he will get off if he denies it. Women are viewed as hormonal and emotionally unbalanced, resulting in them being unreliable as witnesses or to hold roles of responsibility in society. The legal system is also highly biased towards their own people. In a real case involving people I know, a western friend’s car was hit by a Saudi’s at crossroads in the backstreets of a residential neighbourhood. The westerner had right of way by our standards and the Saudi illegally went through a posted “stop” sign at the crossroads. The Saudi successfully argued in court that he had taken the same route home each day and that the Westerner had never been there in his way before. As he had always blasted through the stop sign safely in his own neighbourhood, it was the westerner’s fault for changing the road conditions unexpectedly and being there in the way. The westerner had to pay the damages for both cars ! True story. It’s a whole different world there.

And so, on to the topic of women in Saudi Arabia.

First, let me be clear that there are a small number of progressive, intelligent and well educated Saudi women out there. Some are doctors, teachers, business owners and one even publicly contemplated running for political office at the aforementioned municipality elections, but pulled out – she was the subject of a recent BBC documentary. These women are very much in the minority however. Progress towards equal rights is very slow, as evidenced when a movement to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia shortly after the 1st gulf war in 1990 was suppressed by the Saudis and the women were jailed for a short time. A new push to allow women to drive occurred unsuccessfully two years ago and one is currently underway. Please see the article at for a reference.

But the vast majority of Saudi women are suppressed, discriminated against and have very few rights. They are generally treated poorly in public or ignored. We saw thousands of times how Saudi families walk through shopping centres with the father and kids galavanting around and the veiled wife is usually several paces behind carrying the shopping without help. Women almost always walk behind the men. Under Saudi law, daughters only get 1/2 of what the sons do from their parents’ wills.

Women’s education is only a relatively new innovation in the Kingdom, with primary and secondary schooling not starting for women until the 70’s and 80’s and tertiary education at Universities didn’t start until the 90’s, unless Saudi women travelled to study overseas – that’s very rare though. However, at universities, men and women are segregated to the extent that the men sit in the same lecture theatre that the Professor/Lecturer is presenting in, but the women are housed in a remote auditorium/lecture theatre observing the lecture via closed circuit TV to keep them separate from the men. They don’t have the opportunity to interrupt and ask questions or interact with their tutors in any way except via written submission.

All facets of Saudi life are segregated, from public areas and businesses, to even the home structure. Most Saudi homes have a common entry foyer, but then divide off into mens’ and womens’ section, where the respective house owners are able to entertain same-gender guests without the need to veil up. Friends of ours actually got invited to a Saudi house and after being met by the (veiled) wife and husband, they were split off and spent the entire evening apart so that the women could talk unveiled to Sue and the men could talk to Richard without those pesky, emotional women interfering. Most Saudi houses have high walls around them to stop prying eyes.

Typical Saudi home


Public places are all separated and segregated. The airport has separate male and female waiting areas and the women even go through a separate security point so that they can be searched and patted down by female Saudi officers in private. Hospitals have separate male and female waiting rooms. Saudi wedding receptions are held in dual halls, where there is a common entry – or sometimes a smaller side women’s entrance, and two separate halls for the men and women to celebrate the wedding. We went to a couple of weddings and everytime the female door opened, there would be a rush for women who were close to the door to bring down their veils before a man could see in. We went to a medical conference and they tried to separate male and female medical staff members by placing a large partition down the auditorium. The hospital shuttle bus that went to and from the married staff accomodation off campus tried a few times to separate my wife and I and other married couples when we were sitting together on the bus. We got a car soon after, and I occassionally ran the risk of being jailed and/or deported for giving other female married ladies a lift home to our building without my wife present (we worked different shifts sometimes).

Most businesses either have separate women’s/family sections and men’s sections, or just ban women from entering outright. Women are not allowed into “entertainment” stores where they may be tempted into distraction away from Allah due to their unstable hormones and frivolous female thoughts. So, as a result, women are generally banned from music shops, DVD/Video shops, Computer shops (particularly those that sell games) and other recreational areas such as video game arcades. Women are also generally banned from almost every restaurant in the kingdom, unless they are accompanied by their husband or a male relative. Unaccompanied women or groups of women are routinely turned away from cafes, restaurants and fast food outlets.




There was great excitement in Riyadh in about 1996 when the first McDonalds in the kingdom was going to open, just 200 metres away from our hospital grounds, where there were several fenced off and guarded buildings full of single female employees who lived on campus. McDonalds in Saudi is segregated just like the restaurants in the remainder of the kingdom. There is a “Singles” (i.e. “men’s”) section and a “Family” section. The Men’s section is glass fronted, has regular seating and only men can enter. NO women are allowed at all in the men’s section. If my wife and I fronted up there, she would be refused entry. The family section has either solid walls or frosted windows shielding it from the outside world. Inside, the seats are cubicles which have dividing walls between them and curtains or screens that can be pulled around them for privacy (and de-veiling of Saudi women). Only couples and families can enter. Unaccompanied men can’t enter and unaccompanied women can’t enter either. A married couple can “escort” single females into the family section, and Leanne and I got hit on a lot to take single female friends to McDonalds and the like. Women who are unaccompanied are able to go through the drive-through, but as they cannot legally drive themselves, they have to resort to hiring a taxi and go through that way to get their fast food fix.

The 1st McDonalds in Riyadh. Note the singles’ (mens’) and family signs




Restaurants were regularly raided by the Motowa – officially the Organisation for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice – the religious police whose duties included harassing women who didn’t adhere to dress codes, ensuring that everything closed during prayer time, and checking to see if couples were actually married or not. Many of the known westerner hang outs and restaurants were raided regularly and dating singles were at risk of being caught, jailed and deported if they were caught together. Married couples were able to “chaperone” them though, and so Leanne and I were often asked to come on group “dates” with singles in the mix. Single (unmarried) “couples” often invested in fake marriage licences. I know of more than one pair of westerners that were caught dating and deported from the Kingdom within 48 hours. One close single couple of ours spent a lot of time “house sitting” apartments for married couples on holidays – as we each got about 8 weeks holiday, there were ample opportunities for the singles to take over married couples’ accommodations and enjoy the perks and freedoms that went with it. Single female employees of our hospital were housed in guarded, female-only apartment buildings on campus and had an 11pm curfew.

Banks too have male and female branches side by side. Glass and openness for the men contrasted by the featureless blocking walls and tinted/frosted windows for the women. There are some newer shops that have “women only” shopping and I believe that the new Kingdom shopping centre in Riyadh has a couple of entire building floors which are designated as female only. Before we left, there were no women only shops, and as a consequence, women could not try on clothes before purchasing. The women weren’t allowed to undress in a clothes shop and of course, the ability to hide stuff under the abaya (also known as chadour or burka) and the shopkeepers inability to search the female clients was a security risk and meant that females could not try on clothes. Women either estimated their sizes or just ordered clothes through mail order (but Victorias Secret catalogues and the like wouldn’t make it through customs as they were considered pornographic and were confiscated).


Mosques are segregated. A male Saudi once explained it this way – how could you pray to Allah and keep pure thoughts with a female’s butt in front of your face when you prostrate yourself towards Mecca ? I can kind of see the point there and so, women are up the back in a (generally) curtained off area. Of course, women are not allowed to enter a mosque or even handle a Koran when they are menstruating as they are deemed to be ” unclean” . Men also have to be clean before praying, hence their ablutions before salah (prayer time). Touching a woman, dirtying the body, urinating or farting invalidates the cleansing process and they have to do it again before prayer. So a woman’s touch, whether they’re menstruating or not, is considered as clean as a fart or peeing yourself. I once witnessed dozens of Saudi male medical staff on their way to prayer in our hospital hugging the walls and doing dances around a group of female nurses walking down the hallway and the disgust when one of them was touched on the shoulder by one nurse who wanted his attention for a medical matter. He had to go back and clean again as he was “unclean” from the woman’s touch. Our expat female staff members were coached not to touch Saudi men, especially around prayer time. Woman dodging was a popular sport at prayer time and the negative body language and often avoidance by men were comical to watch.

Most marriages seem to be arranged by the family. For tribal and traditional reasons, there are a lot of familial marriages – cousins marrying each other, uncles to nieces, etc, etc over successive generations again and again. The official term is “co-sanguineous marriage” and it leads to a bit of algae in the gene pool, as we used to politely put it. It was not unusual to see an entire family limping down the hospital hallway as they all had hip dysplasia. My wife looked after one of the “metabolic babies” from a highly repetitive co-sanguineous marriage in the NICU, and a muscle biopsy came back as “unidentified tissue”, it was that freaky. The baby died less than 24 hours after birth. There are a lot of congenital problems in Saudi Arabia from repetitive inbreeding over successive generations.

The age of marriage for a woman is a contentious issue. In Saudi Arabia, they are basically considered to be “women” rather than a girl at the onset of puberty. After they start menstruating, they veil up in public and can be married off. Some exceptions do slip through the crack though. In the last year we were there, my wife worked in the IVF Clinic. There was one married couple that were referred for investigation because they were not getting pregnant. The team took the 35 or so year old man and his wife to separate location (of course – there are even separate male and female waiting rooms the hospitals) and did physicals and questioned them as to how they “did it”. The latter is because some Saudi men are actively homosexual before marriage due to the strict gender segregation and revert to heterosexual behaviour afterwards, but retain some of their previous practices and use the incorrect orifice for humpty pumpty. Some also tried to use the navel, reasoning that that’s where the baby seems to grow inside of. But I digress – back to our couple. The team eventually found out the reason for their inability to fall pregnant, and tried to explain it to the husband in medical terms, citing hormones, menstrual cycles and the mysteries of the female reproductive system. He just didn’t get it at all, and so the staff explained that, if she wasn’t pregnant by the time she was tall enough to see over the high counter at the front of the IVF department, then bring her back. It turns out that she was only 13 years old but hadn’t reached puberty yet. It was kind of like roller coasters at amusement parks – your child must be this high to ride this attraction, etc.

The woman’s main role in Saudi Society is to be a foetus factory. A woman that can’t bear children is viewed as largely useless and is usually quickly divorced, even if it’s the man’s fault from low sperm count, etc. Some 50% or so of the native population is under 18 and growing rapidly, now that modern medicine is providing antenatal and postnatal care and infant mortality is declined steeply. Official literature from WAMY (World Assembly of Muslim Youth) states that although women may be suitable for a limited number of useful roles in society, their main purpose is to be a mother and women can strive for no higher honour. I once x-rayed a profoundly retarded and physically infirm Saudi lady of about 24 years of age. She was bedridden, incontinent and drooled incessantly. She had cancer and was also about 6 months pregnant ! I was informed that this was her 4th pregnancy and although she was dying of cancer, her husband was refusing to allow treatment, as the Chemotherapy would kill the unborn baby. The fate of the mother was immaterial – she was not a primary wife and had been married off to her much older cousin as a baby incubator. A real living, breathing blow up doll that the Filipino maids the family employed could clean up after he was done with her. She was in hospital for life supporting (but not treatment) measures until the baby could be c-sectioned with little risk. As the woman’s main health issue before the cancer was brain damage due to birth asphyxia, unrelated to any genetic issues, she produced quite normal babies and no doubt would have continued on with her foetus forming career if the tumour hadn’t stifled her progress.

Even the royal wives are keen to have babies and will go to extraordinary lengths to achieve their goals. One of the wives of a very high up Prince – I can’t name him for patient confidentiality reasons – was eager to get pregnant, as the Prince hadn’t sired a baby in several years and getting pregnant would cement her place as the new favourite wife. The wife came in after intercourse and the IVF clinic did a vaginal swab to test the sperm count of the Prince. It was very, very low, as the guy was well over 70. So, an arrangement was made for one of the Saudi IVF consultants to be “on-call” 24 hours per day so that whenever the royal couple had intercourse, the wife could speed off to the IVF clinic at any time of the night or day and get the few active royal wigglies retrieved for IVF treatment via Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection. She was undergoing hormone treatment and had eggs harvested for potential fertilization. It was all top secret so that the Prince, who was completely unaware of his wife’s activities, could be presented with a gift from Allah via his scheming wife. At the time we left, she was still not pregnant though.

As a slight diversion to the story, my own wife did a little swab on herself after a session of horizontal folk dancing and took it to look under the microscope at work. We had been trying to get pregnant and into our 3rd month, hadn’t been successful yet. She was starting to get stressed and wanted some reassurance. Turns out that I could probably double the population of China in one sitting given the chance, and we duly got pregnant the next month after the stress had been removed. I am sad to say that this potential gift to the world has been made redundant surgically via “the snip” – I am like a Christmas tree, as I have decorative balls hanging off me these days.

Leanne showing off her pregnant tummy to the IVF nursing staff


Of course, sometimes women have difficulty in getting pregnant for other reasons. As I mentioned in another thread recently, I have direct knowledge of a young teenage bride that was unable to be penetrated by her adult husband and hence, could not consummate their marriage. The girl, aged 14 or 15, I seem to recall, was admitted to hospital for a surgical dilatation of her vagina. Under anaesthetic, her vag was progressively dilated until a 60cc syringe could be imbedded inside her. It was strapped into place and left insitu for about a week, so that her pelvic floor and vaginal wall muscles would stretch and relax enough for relatively painless intercourse. I am also aware from discussing the topic with friends in the operating theatre that they had been called upon to do multiple surgical ” episiotomies” on ladies who had suffered “female circumcision” and had only a small orifice that allowed menstrual fluid and urine to escape, but allowed nothing to get in. In order to be able to consummate their marriage, surgeons had to cut through the scar tissue that remained after the removal of the clitoris, labia and the subsequent suturing of the remnants together. Labour ward staff had to resort to caesarian sections sometimes on circumcised ladies, as they were unable to deliver vaginally due to the horrors wreaked upon their female genitalia.

Getting pregnant isn’t always a good thing, particularly if it is pre-marital. I have heard dozens of stories of Saudi families taking justice into their own hands and killing their pregnant daughters who have allegedly brought shame upon the family. One such story I heard from a reliable source was that in one family, the brothers helped the father drown their unwed pregnant sister in the family swimming pool and then claimed it was an accident. Authorities turn a blind eye to all but the most outrageous examples of this sort of vengeance or “honour killings” as they are known.

Sometimes, babies or children are disowned or even killed by their families. Apparently the health of siblings and cousins affects the dowry value of the females in the family, and poor health or genetic problems in the family lowers the potential worth of the daughters to a father. The paediatric intensive care unit at my hospital had a 3 year old boy named Meshaal who had a chronic lung problem and some brain damage. He had been there since birth and the family had abandoned him as it affected the status of the rest of the family – in particular, the dowry value of the female siblings.

In one other sad case, my wife Leanne looked after conjoined twins. The mother was banned by the husband from visiting them and the father never came. They lived to be over a year old during which time they grew and had tissue expanders placed under their skins for better skin grafting after the separation. They were successfully separated by a brilliant Saudi paediatric surgeon (who had trained in Canada and the US). After a few months of recovery, the twin girls were sent home, where they were killed by their father. He starved them to death and made a show of bringing them back into hospital in a severely dehydrated state, in end stage renal failure and other organ shut down. All because they brought shame and lowered the dowry value of the other females in the family, according to a Saudi doctor, who was being extraordinarily candid about the situation to my wife, who understandably was quite upset.

Leanne with the twins


“The Arab News” is an English language daily newspaper in the kingdom. There is a section in it for reader questions about Islam. The questions were almost as ridiculous as the answers. For example, I remember one (can’t find a copy of it though unfortunately) that read something like “Is it permissible to drown a baby born out of wedlock as soon as it is born ?”. The considered response from the Islamic scholar writing for the paper was “No, the baby is innocent despite its parents’ sin and should be protected as life is sacred under Islam. However, the mother should be stoned to death for adultery as soon as she has ceased breast feeding”.

We loved the Arab News


The identity of who is your mother can be blurred in Saudi Arabia. Men often take multiple wives and the children generally refer to each wife as “mother”, regardless of who the birth mother was. A Saudi student once cheerfully explained to me that she had 3 mothers. Islam teaches that children nursed – i.e. breastfed – by the same woman are siblings; they are not allowed to marry each other later in life. So polygamous men’s wives can swap and share children’s breast feeding duties with no problem. The problem occurs if a non-relative, such as a maid or servant breast feeds the baby first. Effectively, they remove custody and legal responsibility from the birth mother and gain partial rights to the baby. There is a huge push for Saudi women to breast feed their baby, but some hire “wet nurses” to do it after the birth mother has done it for a short while. When Leanne worked in NICU though, premature babies are fed on formula mostly and not expressed mother’s milk and by the time the baby is discharged, the mother’s milk supply had dried up. It was a big social problem to the Saudis and one they didn’t like to talk about.

Local women in Saudi Arabia are almost universally veiled. It’s rare to see an unveiled Saudi woman, and usually it’s only in places of work like the hospital, where a veil inhibits sight for medical work. Some wear a special veil with ninja slits in them and that’s what the conservative medical girls used to do. But most veils are solid and looking through them is handicapped by the thickness of the black cotton of the veil. We used to see lots of women shopping and having to lift their veils up just enough to peek out of the bottom of them without revealing their faces. We saw women in Jeddah swimming in the ocean – fully dressed in their abaya and veils, whist the men and children frolicked in normal swimming costumes.

These aren’t our photos – got them from the Net



Speaking to some female Saudi students I worked with, they all gave the following rationale for the veil. Firstly, they conform with their society and cultural expectations. Secondly, they would feel uncomfortable as men tend to stare at unveiled women due to the novelty factor. Thirdly, it removes temptation from men. Out of 6 female students I worked with, only 1 unveiled. The remainder had ninja hoods, but even went to the extent of placing stickers over the hospital ID badges so that other people couldn’t see what they looked like unveiled in their ID photo (but we had the uncensored photos on file, so got to see what they loked like anyhow).

Female Saudi students in my department



Ohood, the only female student in my department that didn’t veil was from a “progressive” family in Jeddah. She was smart, educated and liberal. However, once when I took the entire team of 7 staff members out to dinner at my expense (I’d received a 50,000 SR [about $20,000 Au] “tip” from King Fahd for saving his life and wanted to share the spoils with a lavish dinner for all of my staff), Ohood was not able to attend. To go by herself was to act like a prostitute according to her family, even though my wife and I would be “chaperoning” her. Her older brother refused to attend and escort her, so she missed out on the lobster dinner. I’m glad to say that she ended up getting my old supervisor position several years after I left the kingdom.

Ohood al Shareef. One of the loveliest, smartest and sensible ladies you could meet, in or out of Saudi Arabia. And the only unveiled Saudi female in the department.


I had to x-ray female patients. Sometimes they refused and demanded a female Radiographer, but most were OK with it. Sometimes the husband would demand a female. But I x-rayed lots of females, including princesses and the King’s sister. It was amusing that most would want to keep their face veiled but it didn’t matter what else they had on. More than once – hundreds of times in fact – I gave a Saudi woman a patient gown to change into and they came out of the change cubicle either topless or near naked with the gown wrapped around their head to hide their face. I remember one poor sick lady who needed oxygen and was on a stretcher after an interventional procedure. The young lady was gasping for breath and was covered by sheets up to her neck and had a head scarf on, but no veil, so we could see her breath and monitor her colour. The mother saw us exit the procedure room, and immediately stormed up and threw the sheets up over her face to cover it.

Addendum 21st Sept.

Hello folks. After reading my 1st installment, my wife Leanne pointed out several other relevant issues and anecdotes about how Saudi women are treated and she suggested that I keep on in that vein before mentioning how western women were treated. So here are some further stories about life for local Women in Saudi Arabia.

One story I shared in another forum recently bears repeating. One day in about 1994, my wife and I were walking down one of the main streets in Riyadh. It was about 45 degrees celsius, which for you US citizens, about 115 F or so ? We saw a twin cab utility truck (with front seat, back seats and a tray out back) coming towards us and this was the configuration of the passengers…

Father and son were in the front seat in airconditioned comfort.
Two goats were sitting up in the backseat also enjoying airconditioned comfort.
Two adult females wearing head to toe abaya, gloves and veils were seated on the burning metal tray outside in the searing heat of the back of the Ute.

Our jaws dropped and we looked at each other, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. That’s the level of respect afforded women by some in the magic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Goats are apparently treated better in some circumstances.

I would like to point out that sometimes the line between religious laws and cultural tradition is blurred. For example, my understanding about veiling is that it’s a cultural dictum and not a religious issue. The Koran states that women AND men should dress modestly. The veil is a cultural issue superimposed over the religious conservatism of the strict Islamic state. There is a Muslim story about Mohammed’s wives being hidden behind a veil, but in the context of the story, it meant a curtain inside their residence and not a face veil.


Regardless, Saudi society goes to great lengths to separate non-related men and women until married. I have been told by Saudi men that sometimes, they don’t even get to see their wife’s face before they are married via an arranged marriage. Others have told me that they did get to not only meet, but also actually see their prospective wife, but strictly only in the company of several of the woman’s relatives and they had zero time alone before their marriage. Sometimes the lucky couple doesn’t even meet before the wedding, as it’s a purely arranged situation and the betrothed have little or no say in their wedding. According to their “law” women must consent to the marriage, but a woman’s silence is taken legally as tacit approval. As you might imagine, the intimidation of women often results in their silence, which then equates to “permission”. However, there is no “dating” with Saudi women as such, as this constitutes either prostitution or adultery, the latter being nominally a capital offence. Time to warm up the dump truck full of rocks….

There are no venues that would encourage men and women to mix in scandalous circumstances by Saudi standards. Therefore, there are NO movie cinemas and NO public swimming pools. Women cannot legally book a hotel room and even the zoo is split into women’s days and men’s days – no, you can’t take the whole family to the zoo in Riyadh. Wives can take the female children on designated days and husbands can take the male children on men’s day. One very interesting thing about the Riyadh zoo is that the Motowa (religious police) pushed strongly to get all of the male animals locked away on Women’s day, so that the male animals would not see the unveiled women. It was unsuccessful, but gives you an idea of the mentality of religious conservatives over there.

Our hospital had a shared staff swimming pool which was surrounded by a 4 metre high brick wall. It was segregated on a daily basis – 2 days per week were female only, 2 days per week were male only and 3 days per week were “family” days where men and women could mix. NO Saudi females went on family day unless they stayed fully covered and out of the water. Western females tended not to go on family days, as Saudi male staff would crowd the pool hoping to see swim suited western women.

I was invited to the final of the confederation soccer cup in 1997 at the Riyadh soccer stadium. I mention this as Australia qualified for the final against Brazil, having won some matches and had managed a draw against Brazil in an earlier pool match. That might not sound impressive, but it’s the equivalent of the Zimbabwean Ice Hockey team salvaging a draw against the USA hockey team. Anyhow, in a crowd of 100,000 present for the match, there was not a single woman present.


In our hospital, there were male and female waiting rooms. If I went to the female room to call a patient for an x-ray, she would often not respond until her husband or parent called her, so more often than not, it was easier to call for a women in the male waiting room, let the relative retrieve them and then take the woman for the x-ray. The hospital cafeteria was also segregated, so the sexes wouldn’t mix in a social setting and so that veiled Saudi women could unveil to eat withou men seeing them.

One of the hospital lobbies

The public display of women in the media is minimal. International magazines that aren’t banned outright are heavily censored with thick black felt pens. Any ads for bras, anything that shows cleavage or legs, any slightly risque photo is taken to with the censor’s pen. There aren’t billboards with womens’ faces on them. On Saudi TV, shampoo ads feature women with their hair completely covered by their headscarves telling the audience how good their hair feels. There are sometimes posterior shots of uncovered hair but zero face, and most definitely no shots of showering women washing their hair or anything like that. Female Saudi journalists sometimes even go to the extreme of writing under a male pseudonym so that their work will be taken seriously. A refence for this can be found at

Sometimes segregation is deadly. A fire in a Saudi female boarding school in 2002 killed 14 girls, as the Motowa (religious police) would not allow the male firefighters to enter the building to save their lives, as they might see women undressed in the process, or worse, bring out semi-dressed women from the building into public view. They stood by and watched it burn whilst the girls that couldn’t escape by themselves died. See a reference at http://saudiarabiawomenrights.blogspot. … their.html

The suppression of women’s issues in general leads to devastating health issues in the community. There are no such things as breast screening programs, sex education, vaccination programs or campaigns to get regular pap smears. Women’s “preventative health” is almost non-existent. So, I saw lots of women come into the hospital with advanced cancers, advanced cardiovascular disease and plenty of other strange conditions that have been allowed to get out of control. One of the worst was an advanced breast cancer that had broken down into an open sore and was fungating. The boob was almost the size of a basketball – red, angry and swollen, plus fairly stinky.

Ignorance from poor education also compounds women’s health. For example, during the fasting month of Ramadan, many women refrain from taking their medications when they are supposed to, even though dispensations are given to the sick and infirm. Consequently, ER’s in Saudi Arabia are filled during Ramadan with patients who don’t take their heart and diabetic medications, etc. Ignorance also manifested itself when an unmarried Saudi woman had to have an indwelling catheter inserted into her bladder prior to an operation. She and her father refused on the grounds that she would no longer be a virgin if she was penetrated “down there”. After lengthy explanations about the female anatomy, she and her father consented to the catheter, but only if it was done by a consultant Urologist who swore that he could tell apart the urethra from the vagina and would keep her virtue anatomically intact. Some Saudi women have had “hymen repairs” surgically performed because they have accidentally ruptured their hymen under non-sexual circumstances and the family insisted that they be seen to be “pure” before they are married.

Ignorance isn’t only on the part of the patient. As I mentioned earlier, the female University students are segregated and the standard of teaching suffers accordingly. For most Saudi female doctors, their postgraduate residency is the first time that they have laid hands on actually patients, particularly those of the opposite sex. Radiology and Pathology tests are over abused due to their ignorance of the body and uncertainty of making diagnoses. I guess that you may agree that the following story best illustrates female Saudi doctor ignorance :-

One of the worst instances of incompetence we heard of during our time at KFSH&RC was when two female Saudi doctors accidentally decapitated a baby during childbirth. Leanne was on duty in the NICU looking, but not rostered on the Labour & Delivery quick response team that particular day. Her friend Nicole was though, and when the emergency phone rang, she dropped tools and ran down to L&D. Nicole came back about 10 minutes later, quite visibly shaken and minus the baby that was expected to arrive. Leanne went to see what was wrong with Nicole and found out a short time later what had happened. The labouring mother had been examined internally by a western midwife who found that her cervix wasn’t yet fully dilated and therefore she was not ready to start pushing. The Saudi doctors had done their own examination and mistakenly thought that the lady was fully dilated and thus ready to deliver. As the mother’s cervix wasn’t fully dilated, the baby’s shoulders got jammed and the baby could not get out. There is about a 4 minute window in which the situation can be retrieved by getting the baby out successfully before brain damage and/or death occurs from lack of oxygen – the baby can’t breath when they are only partially out of the uterus and the umbilical cord is compressed by the exiting baby, cutting off their oxygen from the mother. It’s called shoulder dystocia and is a medical emergency. The NICU quick response team was summonsed to the Labour Ward and the first member to arrive, our friend Nicole, entered the suite just in time to see the doctors, feet braced up on the bed and frantically pulling with all their combined might on the stuck baby’s head, literally tear it off the baby. It perhaps could be considered a small mercy that the baby was probably dead from suffocation before its decapitation. The body was later retrieved via a caesarian section and in a bizarre attempt to fashion a presentable corpse for the understandably distraught parents, the saudi resident doctors crudely stitched the severed head back onto the body of the dead baby.

In fairness, I have to point out that I’ve included some of the more outlandish (but sadly true) anecdotes for entertainment value, but that these sorts of extreme occurrences weren’t daily events. The decapitated baby was horrifying to everybody involved and throughout the hospital, but this was a one off. I chose it as an example of how poor education at university and ongoing ignorance can lead to devastating sequelae, but perhaps I should have merely pointed out the day to day ineptitude of many of the locally trained female (and male!) doctors. I should have also balanced out with a statement that despite their educational handicaps, a some Saudi doctors trained locally were also actually quite fair to good. The top specialists, who were almost universally trained overseas in the US, Canada, Britain and France, rank amongst some of the top specialists in their respective fields. But it was the relatively poor training that the local doctors got that caused many of the problems. Examples of daily minor events included ordering of wrong medications, incorrect physical examinations and substituting x-raying patients for physical examinations – the latter because it is sometimes more comfortable for a female doctor to get a chest x-ray for a suspected lung infection than it is to raise a shirt and listen to a male patient’s chest with a stethoscope. There were examples of “lost” guidewires during insertion of central lines and other such mediccal complications that occur whenever training is substandard. There were other horror stories too, such as the Saudi resident doctor who inserted an intercostal catheter to a baby’s lung to re-expand a pneumothorax, but due to their inexperience and lack of training , thrust it right through the lung and into the right ventricle of the baby’s heart and they bled out in about 10 seconds – once again, no autopsy, and died of Allah’s will.

A recent Arab News article on medical malpractice in the kingdom can be found at … m=9&y=2007

Women are banned from voting (see ) and have few legal rights. As they aren’t supposed to be in the company of men outside their family, they are technically not allowed to interact with officialdom – they rely heavily on their family or husband to do things for them. When Leanne and I entered airports or did official things, all conversation was directed to me and Leanne was largely ignored and treated as a non-person. At our hospital, women were not allowed to sign their own consent forms for procedures or operations. Quite ridiculously, their husbands, fathers or even male children could, and I am personally aware of one case where a woman had an amputation of a leg for cancer, but her pre-pubescent son “signed” the consent form by inking his thumb and placing the print on the form. The woman had no idea about the operation’s intent or outcome, and was quite surprised to wake up afterwards with a spare, empty shoe.

Apart from childbearing, women do have their occasional uses in Saudi Arabia. When Leanne was in the IVF clinic, one of her colleagues came up to her laughing her head off and said “look at this”. The story was that a man had to give a sperm sample for testing as part of the infertile couple’s workup. The man went into the “collecting room” but was unable to perform and fill his specimen cup. He called his wife out from the female waiting room and they entered the collecting room together, soon after emerging to present their semen. Leanne looked down at the collection cup being held by her laughing colleague and there were lipstick marks around the edge, where the woman had spat the semen sample out into the cup. Unfortunately, laboratory testing confirmed that the acidity of the saliva mixed in with the sample killed off the small number of wigglies that were viable in the sample. Back to square one.

I asked a Saudi male colleague one day about multiple marriages. I asked if the multiple wives simultaneously shared the same conjugal bed or not with the husband. He replied that the husband only services one wife at a time, and that if two or more wives are in the same home, they have separate bedrooms. More wealthy men accommodate their multiple wives in separate homes and grace each in turn for conjugal visits. Threesomes are considered strange in Saudi society, but rotating your time between multiple wives in separate homes is entirely normal.

But that’s the point, isn’t it ? What Saudis consider to be normal is so alien to the rest of us. Saudi women suffer under tremendous hardship, persecution and discrimination. Few stick there heads above the crowd and agitate for change, as a society that is so strictly controlled both legally and culturally doesn’t tolerate disobedience. Many women retreat to the safety of a cocooned lifestyle where they are hidden and “protected”. Marriage (often to close relatives) and motherhood is about as high a station in life that most will achieve. Some long for change but don’t have the strength to speak out. In a country of extremes, some Saudi women look to the west with jealous eyes on our freedoms, and some look at the west in abject horror at what they perceive as our wanton, excessive and immoral lifestyles.

It’s a whole different world there though. And the one thing I’ve learned from my time there is there’s no place like home. It’s hard for me to balance what was routine over there and what were the extraordinary moments. For people that have never been there, they tend to blur into one as it’s all completely foreign and bizarre. None of the freedoms or cultural conventions that we take for granted in the west happen there. It certainly was a challenge to work in a strict islamic regime.

Yes, my next installment will be about how western women are treated and how they cope in the world’s strictest Islamic society. Thanks for your feedback so far.



Last edited by Durro on Sat Aug 23, 2008 1:12 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Treatment of Women in Saudi Arabia – Part 2

Postby Durro » Sat Sep 22, 2007 12:34 pm

Part 2

It appears that this final installment took the OP to above the discussion forum’s limit for characters when I tried to edit it in. And so I have to publish a separate post about the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. PLease note that I have edited the Part 1 OP slightly in the last 24 hours so there may be some new information there. However for now, it’s time to turn towards how foreign and western women are treated and how they cope in such an oppressive society.

I’ve been asked why the heck women would subject themselves to voluntarily travelling to a place like Saudi Arabia. It’s a fairly simple response – money and vacations primarily, followed by the adventure of a new cultural experience and finally, interesting work (in our case, unusual and interesting medicine).

Depending on the fluctuations of the US dollar in relation to your home currency (the Saudi Riyal is pegged to the USD), working in Saudi Arabia can be financially very attractive and is income tax free here in Australia. I assume that similar arrangements are in place in other western countries. Leanne and I together saved approximately $400,000 Australian dollars in five and a half years and also spent a further $100,000 on holidays. We came home, paid cash for our home and were debt free.

In Saudi, we received 8 weeks per annum vacation time and split it up into three groups of 2 or 3 week holidays every October, February and June. It was a coping mechanism to get us through the difficult lifestyle over there and when we returned from one exotic vacation destination, it was time to plan for and countdown to the next one. We got to travel to almost 30 countries during our time in Saudi Arabia, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates which gave us a good comparison between Islamic cultures. Riyadh was about 6 hours flying time from Paris, 7 from London, 9 from Nairobi and 9 hours to Bangkok, so it was quite centralized to travel extensively around Europe, Asia and Africa. This is a significant thing to us antipodeans who can fly for up to 4 hours and still be inside Australian airspace. It’s a 24 hour flight to London from our home city of Brisbane and about 13 hours to Los Angeles. We’re a long way from anywhere Down Under, so the novelty of flying somewhere outside of the country you’re in and arriving before you needed a new haircut was enticing and we took advantage of the opportunities presented.

The Durro’s do the Pyramids and Sphinx in 1994

The staff recruiters that signed us up for the 2 year contract in Riyadh were prone to glossing over the negative aspects of the culture in Saudi Arabia. Yes, they said, it was conservative and you had to watch what you did and how you dressed, but it was all laughed off as a novelty and a unique cultural experience. Please bear in mind that in 1993 when we were leaving to go, the Internet was in its infancy and we didn’t even own a personal computer anyhow. Yes my younger friends, prior to the last decade of the millennium, we learned from 37 volume encyclopaedia that were already out of date upon publishing and we communicated with notes tied to the legs of carrier pigeons, or something like that, before the advent of the all pervasive Net of Knowledge. So, needless to say, we entered Saudi Arabia with little understanding of what we were in for.

Leanne was quite stirred up the 1st time we entered Saudi Arabia. We had a portable chess computer in our baggage that was detected on the luggage x-ray machine in Singapore, and we had the decidedly unpleasant experience of several armed guards walking towards us with hands on gun holsters, directing us to step away from the bag and to show them our hands. All was searched and revealed in good time and we dodged a bullet – perhaps literally. Then some unkind westerners in the boarding lounge for our flight from Singapore to Riyadh filled her ears with horror stories of how the Saudi male flight attendants sexually harass western female passengers and Leanne was terrified at the prospect of having to go to the toilet during the flight in case she was molested. I should point out in all fairness that the Saudia (now Saudi Arabian Airlines) staff were delightful and we were well looked after during our long 13 hour flight to Riyadh via Bangkok. Then when we arrived, it took a couple of hours to get through airport Immigration due to the lethargic pace set in dealing with the long line of Pakistanis that had landed just before us. We were met by a hospital representative who took our passports and directed us to Customs where everything is searched every time. Our bags were searched very thoroughly and a security guard asked us for our passports. However, my passport was “lost” by the hospital guy and I was forcibly taken away from a tearful and panicked Leanne by security staff for interrogation and was on the verge of a strip search when the hospital rep interrupted and announced that he had found my passport – he had given two passports to one other person that he had met from our flight. We were reunited and packed into a minibus with several other first timers, many of whom reflected our own “deer in the headlights” look on their faces. After a hairy, seat gripping ride on the highways of Riyadh, an experience somewhat akin to driving in the Indianapolis 500 but without the banked track, we were dropped off with our luggage at 2 a.m. outside an empty, unguarded apartment building in downtown Riyadh with a door key and nothing else – especially no indication of where we were geographically or where the hospital might be….an especially alarming situation as we were told that we would be quartered within the hospital grounds. It was 32 degrees Celsius (at 2 a.m. remember), we were hot, we were tired, we were lost and we were in the Magic Kingdom.

In the following days, we discovered that we were only the 2nd married couple to move into a 7 storey, 100 unit building, which had been leased recently by the hospital for married expatriate staff. There were none of the promised swimming pools, no tennis courts, no satellite TV, no gymnasium, no international telephone access and probably most disturbing, no security guards. It turned out that our recruiters had shown us photos of the foreign Doctors’ compound opposite the hospital, and we were in downtown Riyadh, some 5 kilometres away. So, with little in recreational equipment for the next two years, our main forms of entertainment consisted of reading the few censored western magazines we could get, playing computer chess and watching Saudi TV (Goal !!! goal, goal, goooooooooaaaaaal…..We now interrupt this program to inform our viewers that it’s time for the Maghreb prayer in the Riyadh area – cut to footage of a mosque televising Muslim prayers for 15 minutes).

We did buy a VCR, but there are no “normal” videos in the kingdom. The suburban video shops (that Leanne was banned from) and hospital video shop (that female staff could actually go to) had 100% pirated films that, for the most part, were created by a camcorder filming the movie screen inside a western cinema. Our movies featured audience coughs, chip packet opening and laughter responses, buzzing air conditioning units, and wobbly cameras when people shuffling off to the toilet bumped the camera. One movie we watched was bumped and stayed out of place with half the screen missing for nearly an hour before the pirate film maker noticed the misalignment. It was a major leap forward in movie quality when we started getting good copies of original movie videos emblazoned across the screen every 15 minutes with the caption “this movie is for demonstration purposes only and is not to be copied or redistributed in any form whatsoever”. Needless to say, even the pirated movies were censored and often quite disjointed resulting from their judicious editing of anything involving loose women, alcohol, drugs or anti-Islamic themes.

As with all society in Saudi Arabia, there was a pecking order with foreign women. Americans were the top, followed by British Commonwealth citizens (Canadian, Brits, Australians and New Zealanders), Africans, Asians and those from the subcontinent being lowest on the ladder. Pay scales were adjusted accordingly, with the US citizens being paid highest and Canadians actually wishing that they could be mistaken for Americans like they so often are by the ignorant ear. Westerners worked in the high paying responsible jobs, with in-charge or supervisor positions either being held by Saudis or Americans in overwhelming proportions. Grunt work was done largely by other Arabs or Filipinos & other Asians, at a pay rate about 1/4th of the Americans and 1/3rd of the Australians and other westerners. Scat jobs such as cleaning and garbage collection were done by Indians and Pakistanis. Discrimination and racism is alive and well in Saudi Arabia, not just for women, but also by nationality and religion. “People of the book” are accorded more respect and status than Hindus, Buddhists and other non-Abrahamic religious adherents. Leanne and I met and worked with some highly skilled and competent Filipinas and some fairly useless westerners, but promotions, pays and status were definitely race and/or religion orientated. In Saudi Arabia’s version of Islam, everyone is equal but some are more equal than others.

There were a lot of Filipina, Eritrean and Indian maids that lived in with families, worked seven days per week and were paid little above their lodging and food. By little, I mean about $100 to $200 per month. They were not treated very well and worked almost 24 hours per day, sometimes under duress. I have friends that worked at a major trauma hospital on the other side of Riyadh who told me regular stories of maids being raped, beaten or even killed by their employers. Here are a couple of examples that amazingly were made public in the Saudi Gazette Newspaper. … Itemid=116 … Itemid=146

Even some of those reasonably well looked after were often still treated with distain and disrespect. Leanne and I frequently took plane trips and saw many Saudi families board a plane – the Husband and wife would go to 1st or business class and the maid would be back in cattle class with the children. We had the opportunity to be seated next to a maid on a trip from Riyadh to Bangkok on our way home one year. The highlight of the trip, other than the chance to ask about the Maid’s situation, was when the small child on the lap of the maid grabbed Leanne’s eye covers whilst she was sleeping and pulled them back to their full elastic potential before letting them go with an audible thwack.

The almost universal veiling of Saudi women had a significant consequence for western women. They were a novelty attraction to a few million Saudi and other Muslim men whose interaction with unveiled women is largely restricted to females under 12 years of age. Western women are quite unabashedly and sometimes quite chillingly stared at – lasciviously, wantonly and very unsubtly stared at. I’ve seen some Saudi men rubber neck at Leanne and other western women to the point of walking with their heads turned 180 degrees backwards and walking into a wall or door.

Western women were often sexually harassed. Female friends of ours have reported inappropriate touching, lewd suggestions and one friend even had a salesman with an erection come up being her in an electronic shop and poke her in the behind with his noodly appendage – sorry, I slipped into Flying Spaghetti Monster mode there for a moment. A colleague of mine, a blonde American named Anita, was offered 20,000 SR (about $6,000 USD) to spend a weekend with a Saudi man that just walked up to her in the downtown gold markets one morning and propositioned her. In about 1995 or 1996, some naughty boys in the communications department of our hospital sold off the direct phone numbers of hundreds of single female staff members accommodated in the hospital quarters to sexually deprived Saudi men. For years, female friends of ours were inundated with smutty, obscene phone calls from Saudis at all hours of the day and night and many resorted to demanding new phone numbers to gain some measure of peace.

One cultural feature of Riyadh was the ubiquitous “stink bus” – mini buses overloaded with Pakistani men and other 3rd world nationalities too poor to afford taxi transportation. For a mere pittance, they could crowd into a mini bus designed for 15 to 20 but actually carrying 30 to 40, and be carried to and from the downtown area. The 45 to 50 degree desert heat 6 months of the year and the unfortunate lack of personal hygiene on the part of the passengers is the genesis of the term “stink bus”. In the early days, I rode on one once. Once. We tended to get a taxi for longer trips or to walk everywhere until I purchased a car in our 3rd year. To a western woman though, it’s an unnerving experience to be walking down a street and have 40 pairs of sweaty eyes pierce you with a desperate longing not seen since your last cellmate, Bubba, wanted to make you his personal jailhouse bitch. Leanne was frequently intimidated by the looks and lewd comments directed her way so many times in the early days, but eventually became oblivious to all but the worst after a while. Sometimes the stink buses would visibly tilt as the passengers would scramble to one side for a better glimpse of a western face and if they were lucky, uncovered hair. And given the regularly of the stink buses we saw passing by every few minutes, my wife was undoubtedly the face that launched a thousand wet dreams on a daily basis.

I mention women’s hair, as western women in public could usually get away with wearing just their abaya but no head covering in the mornings. The Motowa weren’t generally active in the mornings and more “freedom” could be had. Leanne and other women wore their headscarf like a shoulder wrap and only put it on if requested by the Motowa. However, in the afternoons and evening, the Motowa were out in force and seemingly far more militant and the western women generally had to cover their hair with their scarves or face the wrath of the Motowa.

The Motowa, the Commission for Promoting Virtue and Preventing Vice, are the religious police of Saudi Arabia. They are the long bearded, cane wielding pseudo-cops whose role in society is to ensure decency standards are met, ensure businesses and individuals comply with prayer time closures, and to generally enforce the moral dictums of the Kingdom. They were often accompanied by civil police officers who empowered them with the right to arrest offenders.


Large companies such as the hospital we worked at were able to keep the Motowa at bay and out of the hospital. But smaller organizations and businesses were open to raids and arrests if caught breaking the moral laws of Saudi Arabia. A 2006 media release which highlights the Motowa’s support for Al Qaeda in Iraq can be found at :- … category=0.

Gotta love ’em.

The Economist on-line has a brief article about the excesses of the Motowa, also referred to as the Mutawaeen. See … id=9377236

The Arab News, Allah bless them, has an article about how the Motowa wanted to ban mobile phones with cameras in them. See … ry=Kingdom

The Motowa would brazenly walk up to western women and demand that they cover their hair. Saudi women were harangued more forcefully for indiscretions such as showing some ankle or having eye makeup on (showing through the Ninja slits that some wore). The Motowa carried canes and sometimes took to beating Saudi women, but I’m unaware of any westerner being beaten by them. However, I know of a Canadian that was accidentally killed by the Motowa in Riyadh. He and his wife were shopping in the evening and the wife didn’t have her scarf over her head as would be normally considered prudent. A couple of Motowa hassled them and the husband bit back. They apparently got into a loud verbal confrontation which escalated into a pushing match and before you know it, he fell over and hit his head, dying a short time later of a fractured skull and intracerebral haemorrhage.

The single women at our hospital were housed in female only accommodation, sharing two or three to an apartment. The accommodation was within the hospital grounds, had tinted windows and was sealed off with high walls. Guards were posted at the entrance to each building and no men were allowed for any reason whatsoever. An 11 p.m. curfew was in place with lockouts after then. Actually, successful pick up lines by single men often went along the line of “well, you’ll be locked out anyway and can’t get a hotel room, so you might as well come home with me…” At any embassy party or private party, there was always an exodus of single females near curfew time so that they could return to their gilded cages before lockout.

What kept the western woman sane ? Well some didn’t When we were there, there were two suicides of female staff members at our hospital. One threw herself off a 5 story building and another took an overdose of anaesthetic drugs she acquired in the course of her work. Some went the other way, and converted to Islam and even went to the extent of veiling in public.

For the rest of us, satellite TV when available was a saving grace for many. We got ours after 2 years of being in the kingdom and complaining bitterly all that time. The wheels of Saudi beaurocracy do grind fairly slowly though. I mentioned vacations and they were what got us through in the early days. On our first trip to London in 1994, we saw 4 uncensored original movies in Leicester Square on the first day. It was heaven. Oh, and apparently London has some historical stuff to look at too, which we eventually stumbled across, on our way to another movie I think. Some employers organized trips around the Kingdom to historical sites or out to the desert. Embassies had parties, although friends still in Saudi today have e-mailed us that these have scaled down tremendously since the “War of Terror” – errrr sorry, ““War on Terror” began. We went to an Australia Day barbeque in the desert hosted by the embassy and attended by a few hundred out in the middle of nowhere. Of course, written permission had to be obtained by everyone to leave the city.

Australia Day celebrations out in the desert.



Gold shopping was plentiful and cheap, as were Persian rugs. Leanne’s gold collection – gold for birthdays, anniversaries and Christmas, etc. – was valued for insurance purposes at $40,000 when we returned home and since that time, the price of gold has more than doubled. Lots of western women shopped till they dropped, using retail therapy as a pleasant diversion from the madness around them. Embassy parties were an entry into another world – real alcohol, normal dressing and no Saudis. Private parties within hospital accommodations or behind walled, guarded compounds leased by the big companies were safe, although Motowa sometimes hung outside to grab those suspected of drinking alcohol or being in the company of the opposite sex. Smaller parties in private accommodation were susceptible to raids and arrests.

Yes, alcohol. It’s officially banned in the kingdom and cause for jailing and deportation for a westerner. A lot of western women drank alcohol whilst in the kingdom though, and some formed addictions as a coping mechanism for the loneliness, boredom and frustrations. Alcohol came in three forms. Firstly was the black market real stuff. US Military personnel in Saudi are allotted a generous ration of alcohol per month, measured in cartons more so than bottles. Some enterprising capitalists put a 300% mark up on their allotment and on-sold it to non-military westerners. A bottle of genuine scotch went for about $120 AUD or about $100 USD. It was the mark of true friendship when you were invited to a home and served real alcohol. We reserved it for special friends and significant occasions. The second form of alcohol was “Sid” – “Siddiq” is Arabic for “my friend” and “Sid” is the codename for moonshine made by the gallon by cartels of secretive Sid makers. A hospital employee (and friend) had a fire in his Sid lab (lounge room) in 1997, and when the police found the evidence in the smoldering ruins, he was jailed for a couple of weeks before being deported. Sid is unadulterated rocket fuel and although it retailed on the black market for about the same as a genuine spirit, you could split it into thirds, dilute it with 2/3rds water, and you could still light it up. Some bright sparks from the USA realized that they could get wood chips from the Jack Daniels Distillery past the Saudi Customs people – they claimed that it was scented wood for incense burning. However, in reality, they were wood shards from barrels used to age Jack Daniels whiskey and had some of the whiskey soaked into them. Throwing the wood chips into a bottle of Sid produces a more flavorsome and tolerable drink that went quite well with coke and ice – Sid Daniels. The 3rd option was to buy sugar, yeast and grape juice (suspiciously but unashamedly sold at Saudi supermarkets by the carton in re-sealable bottles), throw it all into a 20 litre plastic container for a few weeks to a couple of months, and behold, wine of sorts is produced.

The final mechanism for coping for western women is humour. If you don’t want to cry, then you have to laugh. Bazaars in private compound sold t-shirts with anti-Saudi designs. I had one shirt with a cartoon of 3 veiled women standing on a platform with “Miss Riyadh”, “Miss Jeddah” and “Miss Dhahran” sashes across their chests and the caption, “Saudi Beauty Contest”. Lots of western women took delight in wearing anti-Saudi paraphernalia under their abayas. We also had some home-made “How to Host a Murder parties” and invited lots of married and single female friends to role play in the 4 themed dinner parties we had at our place. The hypothetical and quite humorous murder of the King of Saudi Arabia took place in our hospital and the suspects were all staff members, bodyguards, Motowa and other royals. Everyone had opportunity and a motive, but the murderer was….well, you’ll just have to come to my place to play one night.

The other scandalous tradition we had was a Christmas poem. Not just any Christmas poem, but an epic that I wrote in 1994, updated in 1998 and then again after 9/11. It details the misadventures of Santa when he gets blown off course and crash lands in Saudi Arabia, where he is officially illegal of course. There is of course no “Christmas” nor any other non-Muslim religious celebration in Saudi Arabia. The Christmas poem was photocopied and e-mailed extensively around the Kingdom and I even heard of “pirated” photocopies being sold in frames at western compound bazaars around Riyadh. Hospital security officers found a copy of the poem in the desk of a senior Canadian staff member and there was a witch hunt for the author, resulting in Chris the Canuck resigning his job due to the pressure placed on him. Chris, the husband of one of Leanne’s colleagues, knew it was me, but to his credit, stonewalled the hospital cops and didn’t give me up. 13 years on, I’l admit now that it was me who wrote it and I’ll post it below for your entertainment. Even if you don’t quite get all the insider references, it kind of sums up all that is so wrong and so bizarre in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (and I think you’ll enjoy it).

For it is certainly bizarre by western standards. That particular opinion does go both ways though, as some Saudis can’t believe the excesses of the west in relation to their own frame of reference. Women in the kingdom certainly do not enjoy the freedoms nor respect accorded to their western sisters. Some do feel secure in their cocoons but others ache for something more. In the whole kingdom, there is an undercurrent of discontent from both conservative and liberal camps. The Islamacists want no part in western culture and despise the negative influence that they perceive has tainted the kingdom. The liberals see western women driving, voting, leading and being independent and long for the same rights. The ruling royal family treads a very thin tightrope to keep both extremes at bay, lubricating the way with generous amounts of oil revenue. But the day will come, as it always has in other countries, when the excesses of the royals and the discontent of a large faction of the population come to a head. It happened in 18th century France, 20th Century Russia and Iran, and will most likely happen at some stage in 21st century Saudi Arabia.

And that brings me to the close of this epic post. Thank you for taking the time to read this. It has been comforting that other contributors to the Dawkins site discussion forums who have been to Saudi Arabia acknowledge the accuracy of the stories and the similarities with their own experiences. Looking back now, there was a lot we became immune to and don’t really consider that outrageous, but judging from the comments some have left, it certainly may be an eye opener for those of us that have not had access to the insular and remarkably conservative Islamic nation that is the magic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.



The Night Before Christmas (in Saudi Arabia)

by Durro

‘Twas the night before Christmas in the land of the Saud
The traffic was chaos with horns blaring loud
The vehicles would swerve all over the street
And more often than not, their fenders would meet

There were men wearing dresses walking along hand in hand
But growing moustaches to prove they’re a man
They’d kiss and they’d fondle whenever they’d meet
Then hawk up a goobie and spit on the street

The women were veiled to hide them from sight
They’d bump into lamp posts (no vision at night)
They kept the girls veiled so the men would not stare
At their hair lips, cleft palates and thick facial hair

The Motowa were rampant and yelled at the whores
That “it’s time for the prayer so get out of the stores,
And cover your hair woman! You look like a slut !
We have to protect our young Saudis from smut”

The Yankees were present to defend Arab soil
Owned by their good friends who had lots of oil
Inseparable bonds tied the best of all friends
(Unless they fly planes into buildings again)

Satellite dishes adorned every roof
The local TV was too dull and here’s proof
For all that they’d show was cartoons and football
And praying at Mecca and that’s about all

Women were banned from driving about
The music and video stores threw them out
McDonalds was off limits from the girls, yes it’s true
Still, they got in a taxi went through the drive-thru

Each Friday the locals would go to the square
To see what poor bastard was being whacked there
Some 3rd world drug mule would be led to the spot
And to the cheers of the crowd, he’d be given the chop

The royals were wealthy beyond the word rich
Causing some locals to grumble and bitch
But they weren’t perturbed about this lack of thanks
As they’d stashed exit funds in Switzerland’s banks

And into this place on his seasonal chores
Would soon come unwittingly, poor Santa Claus
Beyond the hot desert on this festive night
Were the old man and reindeer about to take flight

From their base way up north they would travel the world
Delivering their gifts to good boys and good girls
The sleigh at the ready and the bag full of stuff
The reindeer took off and the sleigh flew on up

They sped through the night, stopping here, stopping there
But trouble was brewing, the team unaware
In the dark of the night while all slept, man and beast
The flight plan went wrong in the damn Middle East

A wild desert dust storm swept into their path
They were sucked into the vortex like an emptying bath
The desert winds shrieked and turned them around
They were flipped, they were tossed, they were flung to the ground

Facing probable death, they survived it in fact
For a large red sand dune cushioned most the impact
Santa clawed to the top of the large desert dune
And he looked to the sky and he cursed at the moon

With frustration and anger, he cursed blue and rowdy
When the GPS told him he had landed in Saudi
That Kingdom so backwards where everything’s twisted
And poor Santa Claus has never legally existed

Santa rose to his feet, full of sand, full of dust
He resolved to go on, for he knew that he must
Santa brushed off his front and he brushed off his back
And he tried to brush sand that was wedged up his crack

A family of nomads just happened to come by
And the gifts on the sleigh caught the Bedouin’s eye
“I’ll swap you a daughter, or a wife – (I’ve got 4)
So let’s do a deal or maybe haggle some more”.

Santa politely declined as he didn’t want strife
for the thought of a threesome wouldn’t please Santa’s wife
The Bedouin insisted and haggled some more
“My good friend, I can throw in some things you’ll adore”.

“I can see you deal tough and you really need urgin’
I’l throw in 3 goats, and they’re all nearly virgins”.
But Santa said no and went back to the sleigh
Where the reindeers were scattered and the toys disarrayed

With some magical help the toys went back into place
The reindeers were harnessed and ready to race
Santa jumped in the sleigh and with a crack of his whip
He gave the three goats and the Bedo’s the slip

Fully loaded again, the sleigh took to the sky
Empowered by magic the ability to fly
In the spirit of peace and good will upon man
Santa set off and ventured into this desolate land

For although he’d been shunned, Santa’s heart was not hard
And he chose to deliver a gift to King Fahd
Santa checked with his compass the place that he sought
And urged on the reindeer towards Riyadh airport

But sadly for Santa as they flew ‘cross the land
They flew ‘cross a Prince who had camped in the sand
At the sound of the sleigh bells, the Prince looked to the sky
As some falling deer shit hit him right in the eye

The Prince was not happy, he became quite incensed
And rang on his cell phone the Minister of Defence
“ome fat fool” he cried out, “dropped some shit in my eye
I want to see justice, this infidel must die!”

The Minister (his uncle) called up the air force
And vectored a fighter towards Santa’s course
Oblivious to danger, Santa sped through the night
Unaware that this could be his terminal flight

The sleigh showed up on radar, an innocent blip
The plane fired its missiles on their deadly trip
The warheads homed in on the return from the sleigh
The first one hit Rudolph and blew him away

The missiles hit home with a sickening thud
And Santa got covered in gallons of blood
The casualty count was climbing up high
And the sleigh started falling from out of the sky

With Rudolph all splattered and too Dancer and Donner
Santa Claus thought for sure that he was a goner
With a surge of adrenaline, Santa pulled with his might
And the surviving few reindeer kept up a semblance of flight

With his missiles depleted the pilot was mad
For this was the easiest target he’s had
The angry young pilot in a wild angry fit
Pounded fists all around inside the cockpit

And as Santa limped off in the opposite direction
The pilot punched the wrong switch and caused his ejection
And although the chute opened, Fate still played a trick
For he landed face down in some warm reindeer shit

As the reindeers’ strength ebbed, Santa peered through the haze
For a safe place to land and the reindeer to graze
In a sheer stroke of good luck, the place that they sought
Was right out in front, yes Riyadh Airport

They crash landed again, a few reindeer survived
And Santa looked round where the team had arrived
It was flat, it was desolate, the place was forlorn
And the temp was near forty at 3 in the morn

Some 3rd world bag handlers unloaded the sleigh
And sent Santa to Customs (they showed him the way)
There were long rows of others lining up at Passport
But the Arabic one seemed suspiciously short

Santa waited for hours but at last his turn came
The officer looked up and he asked him his name
“here is no Entry Visa inside your passport
And I think that you could be a smuggler of sorts”

Over Santa’s protests, from his lofty perch
The officer sent Santa for a cavity search
An ordeal, but he bore it with distain and a gag
And after he sneaked off to go get his bag

The airport bag men had not been gentle enough
They’ damaged and scratched and smashed most the stuff
Santa let out a sigh, his arms started to sag
But for 10 Riyals a brown man carried the bag

When the bag got to Customs they threw a lot out
Especially the pigs with their pink flattened snouts
They threw out the books that had pictures of girls
And threw out the dolls with the lengthy blonde curls

They threw a bunch out that they thought was offensive
But Santa was pissed and went off the defensive
“Can’t you see by my robes”, Santa said with some power
” and my long hairy beard, I’m a fucking Motowa!”

Customs let him go, not wishing for trouble
And Santa took off out of there on the double
He flagged down a taxi that was dirty and yellow
And driven by quite a suspicious young fellow

Santa gave his last Riyals to bagman curbside
And got into the cab for his first Saudi ride
An uncomfortable silence ensued in the drive
Santa looked out the window and thought of his wife

He glanced to the runway where earlier he’d spilled
To find that his last living reindeer were killed
A family of Bedo’s were camped round a fire
Cooking roast venison on the deers’ funeral pyre

Poor Santa’s heart hardened and filled up with malice
He instructed the driver to go to the palace
“For 95 Riyals, I’ll take you that way
Or just for a blow job” said the guy who was gay.

Santa’s wallet was empty, he was at a loss
For he needed some Riyals or else dental floss
He distracted the driver and yelled “Look there, a whore”
And Santa inched over and pushed the guy out the door

Santa battled the traffic and too reckless driving
He had several near misses, just barely surviving
The cars sped too fast down the streets and highways
They’d flash their headlights to say “Out of my way”

The road lines meant nothing, the red lights still less
u-turns across 3 lanes just didn’t impress
But after some hours, he pulled up at the gate
And in front of the Palace, his heart filled with hate

He used hypnotism to get by the guards
And he stormed off in search of his quarry, King Fahd
He searched through the rooms seeing riches untold
Persian rugs, chandeliers and bath taps made of gold

But at last he discovered on the throne Fahd was sat
Looking seedy and greedy and terribly fat
Santa walked up and looked him in the face
And said “So you are the prick who’s in charge of this place”

He said “I was shot down by missiles earlier tonight
And Rudolph’s poor nose will no longer shine bright
The sleigh crash-landed twice and I thought I would die
And I’m just glad that the cavity searcher used KY

And the maniac drivers without any skills
Caused me so much stress that I thought I’d be killed
My presents were taken, my last reindeer were eaten
I’ll finally admit that my spirit has been beaten

I’ve travelled the world to bring children joy
To bring them good tidings, their gifts and their toys
Now the present I give, gives me the most fun of all”
And Santa walked up and kicked Fahd in the balls

“Merry Christmas you fucker” and the King gasped for breath
“That one’s for Rudolph and his needless death
And here is another, you dumb Saudi putz”
And once more his black boot kicked Fahd in the nuts

His dignity back and some measure of joy
He left for the pole to go home and make toys
And whilst Santa was leaving, back home to the snow
Just as the King fainted, he heard a jolly “ho ho ho!”


Last edited by Durro on Sat Aug 23, 2008 1:32 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Treatment of Women in Saudi Arabia Part 3

Postby Durro » Fri Sep 28, 2007 2:13 pm

Well, I’m back for a 3rd instalment due to popular demand. I’ll try to keep to the main topic – the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia – but forgive me if I do digress now and then. Writing these stories and responding to the comments some people have posted have brought back a plethora of memories. Recollections keep popping into my mind and I’ll try to write them down in a coherent manner. I’ve included a few bits I posted in the comments forum related to this OP, but have a fair amount of new material for you.

As I did mention in the comments thread, from our experience travelling to the UAE and Egypt, and in speaking to Arabic staff members in the kingdom, the other Arabs seem to hold the Saudis in distain for their hypocrisy and their arrogance. Saudis hold themselves out to be the custodians of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina, and in fact, that is one of the King’s official titles. I still have the envelope that I got my $20,000 bonus in for helping to save King Fahd with this title on it.


The Saudis preach conservative Wahabbism and regard themselves as the moral role models of the Islamic world. However, in reality, many Saudis went overseas to slut and drink their way around known sin spots such as Bangkok and Bahrain. The causeway linking Bahrain to Saudi is a direct arterial link to the many vices that are officially denied Saudis in their own country – sex, drugs and loose women. It’s not just expats that make the drive across the water to regain a bit of normalcy for a while. I know for a fact that Saudi men have caught HIV from unprotected sex with prostitutes in Bahrain, Bangkok and Africa, as I’ve x-rayed some of them (and their infected wives) for the complications of full blown AIDS and a few told me their self pitying stories. It’s funny though, that as late as 1997, the Arab News had a headline stating “No AIDS in Kingdom” with an accompanying article stating how their superior moral values have prevented the entry into the kingdom of what was largely an immoral western illness. I should mention that as a prerequisite for working in Saudi Arabia, expatriates are forced to have an HIV test, which is repeated within weeks of entering the kingdom. HIV positivity is grounds for immediate deportation if you are a foreigner.

Now, there is an interesting side story here about being in a community of proven HIV negative expats. I’ll say that this is 2nd hand information, as Leanne and I don’t swing that way – or swing at all for that matter. Apparently there were some special “key parties” held at one of the married staff members’ accommodations at another hospital in Riyadh. Some expat couples there apparently had a wife swapping club going on – car keys were dropped into a bowl and the willing contestants drew them out to see who they’d be partnered with for the evening’s frivolities. My understanding was that their alleged HIV status gave them the confidence to be promiscuous. Now there’s not only the danger of being caught committing adultery, which in itself is a capital offence, but the HIV tests were only conducted once upon entry to the kingdom, and so westerners who vacationed out of the kingdom and were sexually active were at risk of infection with any number of sexually transmitted diseases. The more intelligent reader would realise at this point that there would be little way of telling if they brought the infections back into the kingdom, and so, apart from the morality of the situation, I thought that it was extremely reckless behaviour. But the restrictions of the kingdom made some people do wild things to compensate.

One sensible outlet for our frustrations was sport, but western women were not able to participate in a wide variety of sports for a number of reasons. Any outdoor activities were restricted by virtue of the fact that women had to stay covered in public, and so the hospital that we worked at had no official female counterparts to the sanctioned mens’ soccer competition, tennis squad, squash team, and the like. Some corporations housed their staff in high walled compounds with security and guards and so women within the walls could wear shorts and t-shirts and play sport such as tennis and field hockey. Of course, it was desert climate – searing hot for 6 months of the year, with the thermometer reaching the mid to high forties celsius on a regular basis, and so there were few sports played in the lengthy summer anyhow. The hospital we worked at had a few tennis courts hidden behind high walls and “women only” gymnasiums in their single female accommodation areas.

As I mentioned earlier in the comments thread, Leanne and other western women did play softball at the American Embassy softball field in Riyadh. The field was a 3 sided U shaped valley nestled in between high hills, with security guards keeping out the locals on the 4th open side. Once past the vehicle search and inside the gates, the western women could get around in shorts and t-shirts and feel free for a few hours. Also at the softball field was a burger joint that sold……BACON Burgers !!!! Expats tended to order a triple bacon burger with extra bacon on the side, and take the excess home to use for breakfasts or caesar salads, as bacon was illegal in Saudi Arabia.

I’ve previously mentioned the arab men staring at western women at the hospital pool on the designated “family day”, making it an intimidating experience. Leanne and some friends also came across a similar thing on our own building. We were all moved by the hospital housing department in our 3rd year to a new building downtown that had a pool on the roof, as well as a gym and sauna. The hospital employed some Pakistanis to be front door security and cleaners one of the little guys used to hang about in the gym and spent hours on end cleaning the mirrored wall at one end of the gym, staring at the western girls in their workout gear in a very creepy kind of way. A few of the married men eventually took him aside and had some illuminating and encouraging words with him – something about being thrown off the top of our new 8 story building – and he soon desisted.

Going back in time to our first week in the kingdom, our welcome “care package” supplied by our hospital of rice, tinned guava juice and non-pork canned spam (well beyond its use-by date) was looking more and more unpalatable by the hour. Braving our new surrounds, Leanne and I went on a trepidatious 1st grocery shopping expedition. We fully expected to see whole skinned goats hanging in butcher shop windows and camel burgers at their fast food outlets. To our surprise, we stumbled across a western style supermarket with all the modern conveniences and similar, if not actually the same products as home. We were thrilled to find a measure of familiarity down each aisle. However, our relief soon turned to apprehension when the lights all suddenly went out and people started yelling at us and other shoppers to get out. Leanne and I looked at each other in panic and wondered aloud if there was a robbery in progress or a terrorist incident unfolding before our very eyes. I grabbed Leanne and steered a beeline for the doors with a couple of men shouting, “Salah ! Salah!” at us as we fled. We exited the supermarket to find a couple of dozen people lounging around outside in the 45 degree heat and looking quite calm, albeit a little sweaty. As dozens of mosques began to emit wails in a discordant cacophony, a kind westerner saw our obvious confusion and approached us to see if we were new in the kingdom. We replied that we were and he went on to explain that Salah meant prayer time and that the supermarket had just closed for the mid-afternoon prayer. As we’d only just entered the store a few minutes before, we apparently missed the loudspeaker announcement of “attention dear shoppers, we will be closing for prayer in approximately 10 minutes” and were chased out due to the presence of Motowa nearby.


Everything closes for prayer 5 times per day in Saudi Arabia. Prayer times are published in the newspaper, and both locals and westerners plan their shopping and dining out around prayer times. Establishments with publicly viewable areas such as shops and supermarkets were deserted during prayer. However, restaurants merely locked their doors, dimmed their ceiling lights and pretended that nobody was inside. No entry or exit was allowed for the duration of the 25 to 30 minute prayer time in case they were caught by the dreaded Motowa and prosecuted for a violation of the law. In the family section, we’d be dining by candlelight inside our booths and wouldn’t be allowed out even if our meals were finished and paid for. Being late to a dinner date often meant an extra 30 minute wait for the restaurant to reopen after prayer time. Conversely, eating too slowly meant that you might be held inside for the same period of time. We always ate out with an eye on our watches.


Shops sometimes also violated the law for westerners in other ways. One such example was the sale of Christmas gear. In late November, some shops sold “festive season” decorations, but the packaging was either blotted out by felt pens or had stickers placed over them to hide all references to “Christmas” which as I’ve mentioned, is illegal.

Censorship of items with female images on them was rife. I’ve already mentioned that magazines were taken to with the big bad black felt pen. Here is an example of a CD that we purchased in Saudi Arabia. The original cover had a silhouette of a women in close proximity to a silhouette of a man on it, but even that is too risque and had to be blotted out. The photos associated with the biographies of the female artists on the inside cover were also censored if they showed any cleavage.



As much as Saudi women cover up when in kingdom, Saudi women travelling on international flights very often de-veil once outside of Saudi airspace. Leanne and I have witnessed on several occasions a rush of women to the plane’s bathroom and shortly after, the women emerge in glamourous gowns, ostentatious jewellry and reeking of expensive perfumes. They are re-seated just in time for the locked alcohol cabinets to be re-opened and drinks served. The reverse applies when travelling towards the kingdom. The ninja outfits come back on and the airline locks away the booze. But international travel was the realm of the wealthy and sophisticated Saudi woman, who became more liberal when travelling outside the kingdom.

One aspect of segregation did manifest itself on plane flights, particularly domestic ones. Occasionally, women would be seated next to non-relative men or vice versa and there would be chaos. The poor flight attendants often had to reshuffle seating assignments to put women with women and men with men, often at the direction of the husband or relative travelling with the woman. Leanne and I had an experience where a Saudi man refused to sit with us in the 3-across seating of a particular plane flight, as he would be near a western woman and he demanded a seating change. As no Saudi woman would sit near me, we ended up having the 3 seats to ourselves.

I must digress and share a personal Saudi story about flying with you at this juncture. Leanne and I were due to fly out of the kingdom on our very first trip home. It had been over a year since we’d been home to Australia and despite having had 3 vacations in Egypt, London and France respectively, we wanted to get home badly. We caught a flight out of Riyadh to Singapore (via Bangkok) that left at 1am. Leanne was especially tired, we were anxious about the flight and we just wanted to get home. Strangely enough (and we forever took this as a bad omen) our Saudia flight took off on time. It’s the first and only time that that’s happened to us. As we pulled out onto the tarmac, the “travel prayer” was played over the plane’s intercom. Yes, the airline routinely starts all flights with the prayer that Mohammed said whenever travelling. It’s in Arabic, sounds morbid and quite sombre in tone, but is translated something to the effect that we pray to Allah that we get there in one piece.

Anyhow, we started the take off roll and as we picked up quite a bit of speed, there was a loud thump that sounded from somewhere under the plane. We thought aloud to each other that maybe a luggage access port had come open or that we’d hit something. However, the plane took off and we were off into the sky. I commented that we weren’t very high up as I looked out the window, but Leanne said not to worry and almost immediately put on her sleep goggles and put her seat back for a snooze. I continued to look out my window and noticed that we seemed to be going around in circles, as I’d seen the moon twice and was sure I could see the city again. Leanne shushed me and told me that the pilot knew what he was doing. I then noticed the next suspicious thing and tapped Leanne on the shoulder and asked her to look out the window. With a grumpy frown, she sat up, snatched off the goggles and looked out through my window to the wing where there was now fluid pouring out of the tip of the wing. A loud “holy shit!” filled the cabin just before the pilot came over the intercom.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, due to some technical difficulties, we will be returning the Riyadh International Airport. However, for safety reasons, we will be dumping fuel for the next 30 minutes in preparation for our emergency landing back in Riyadh. I request at this time that the re-familiarise yourself with the emergency procedures contained on the pamphlet in your seat pockets and obey the instructions of the flight crew. I thank you for flying with Saudia, and should you survive the flight, we sincerely hope that you choose to fly with us again”

OK, maybe he didn’t say that last bit, but I knew he was thinking it. I know I was. So anyhow, we flew around the desert for almost 40 minutes dumping jet fuel to lighten the load and minimise the explosion hazard. Leanne and I noted dozens of Bedouin campfires ringing the city limits and wondered if any looked to the sky wondering why rain was falling before WHOOOOOFF, up went the jet fuel as it hit their fire. As we returned to the airport for the final time, we could see dozens of flashing lights and vehicles lining the remote emergency runway that we were being diverted to. It turned out that we had blown an engine on takeoff, but were too far gone to pull up and had to keep going up into the sky, hence the shallow take off angle. When we landed, the 747 could only do reverse thrust on 2 engines (one wasn’t working and a 3 engine reverse thrust would have skewed the plane across the runway) and so, we whizzed past the fire trucks, ambulances and police that were waiting our arrival. The plane ended pulling up with its nose wheels in the desert and the rear wheels just on the tarmac. Saudis on the flight scrambled to the obvious exits and demanded immediate release, but we remained calm and planned a quick escape down the back exits which were unattended and unnoticed.

To cut a long story short, we had a new plane prepared, transferred the luggage and took off 4 hours late. Our planned 4 hour stopover in Singapore was looking wholly inadequate and we were stressing about missing the connection home. To our amazement, we picked up about 20 minutes on the flight due to tailwinds and after radioing ahead to Singapore, we were met by frantic escorts and sprinted through the Singapore terminal, reaching the QANTAS flight just as they were closing the door to the plane.

But back to the main story…

I participated in a “medical outreach program” where our hospital sent senior staff out to smaller provincial centres to evaluate and teach them. Because of the restrictions on women travelling unaccompanied, and because women are not allowed to book hotels or stay in hotel rooms by themselves, there were no women in the program. At one hospital’s x-ray department, I arrived to find two female Filipino Radiographers working slavishly whilst 25 or so Saudi and a few non-Saudi male Radiographers largely sat around doing nothing. I enquired what was happening and the reply was that they had a strict policy that males x-ray males and females x-ray females. The patient split was 50/50 between the sexes, but the overwhelming imbalance between the ratio of male to female staff meant that the two poor girls were working their buns off whilst the men sat back and socialised most of the day.

There was one positive aspect of segregation for Saudi women, and that occurred during wedding celebrations. Saudi weddings involve a civil registration of marriage followed by a segregated wedding reception where the men are in one hall and the women in another. Leanne witnessed at one wedding we went to (and had to stay apart at) the fact that the mothers of young Saudi men take the opportunity to size up potential brides for their offspring whilst they’re all unveiled and dressed “normally” . It was one of the few times that non-related Saudi women had the opportunity to see each other revealed. Leanne described it as an absolute meat market. She had an Arab friend of hers translating the conversations around her and many revolved around commenting on the child bearing hips of a particular dancing woman or outright asking young women if they were married (or betrothed) and if not, then how the mothers had male children looking for wives. Sadly, some approaches were along the lines of “your cousin Ali is looking for a 3rd wife….interested?” As marriage and motherhood as the main vocation for women is drummed into Saudis from an early age, many girls at the wedding receptions did seem to make positive overtones towards the circling sharks.

But in public, and even during hospital medical procedures, most Saudi women are conditioned to cover their faces, often at the expense of other parts of their anatomy. I’ve mentioned ladies for x-rays coming out of change rooms with their breasts exposed but their heads covered with the patient gown. I also witnessed women having more intimate procedures such as a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) with their naked legs up in the air in stirrups, but their faces covered with a veil still. For your information, an HSG is a radiology test where a catheter is inserted up via the vagina, through the cervix and into the uterus and contrast is injected to see if the fallopian tubes “fill and spill” indicating patency. Apparently covering the face was more important than other modesty considerations during tests.

Speaking of female medical matters, I have one correction stemming from my earlier posts. Leanne informs me that most of the female circumcisions she saw in labour and delivery were evident on Sudanese and Eritrean Muslim women, and not very often on Saudis. Removing the clitoris and narrowing the vaginal opening to make sex unpleasureable was more of a cultural thing in that part of the Islamic world, and not in Saudi.

In 1996, I was feeling bad for women patients who weren’t getting their procedures explained – remember, they couldn’t give consent for their own tests or procedures. And so, I got my section to create and translate bilingual patient information pamphlets. They took several weeks to create, proof read, correct and then gain approval by several layers of red tape wielding hospital administrators. We proudly publicised them and distributed them for reading, only to realise later than most patients – especially women – were illiterate and couldn’t read the damn things.


Ignorance isn’t always bliss for women in the kingdom though. Not only are there no women’s health campaigns, but no safety and accident prevention campaigns either. We frequently saw families driving around Riyadh with no seat belts on and children climbing throughout the speeding vehicles. Driving is nuts in Saudi Arabia and high speed collisions frequently killed entire families, as the vehicle’s occupants would be catapulted through the windscreen and smeared across the road, or bounced around inside vehicles like a pinball. We cynically referred to small Saudi children as “Saudi airbags” as we saw for ourselves thousands of examples where the mother would be sitting unbelted in a car with one or two unrestrained children on their lap.

article on speeding deaths … m=7&y=2004
and whole families being killed … m=5&y=2004

Another aspect of ignorance in the kingdom was that people frequently didn’t know how old they were. Firstly, the Hejira calendar is lunar and not coincidental with the solar year that we follow. Also, anyone older than about 40 to 50 had little reference for their birth. Prior to the 70’s or even 80’s, records weren’t kept and births were related via oral tradition. Some of the references for births were oblique, such as “I was born at the start of the great war of liberation”. That might have meant the Arab/Israeli war of 1967 or the one in 1973. Others were born in the year of the great flood, or the year of the comet. For hospital medical records, we had to estimate the approximate Gregorian calendar year of birth, and if the actual birth date wasn’t known, 1st of January was used as a default birthday for thousands of patients. This led to some obvious miscalculations in age, but perhaps none more so than this 145 year old man as reported in the Arab News. Note the number of grandchildren attributed to him – 600 from less than 10 children, equals some 60 or more grandchildren per child. Needless to say, don’t believe everything that you read – particularly in Saudi Arabia.


When we arrived in Saudi Arabia, the year was 1414, literally ! They follow the Hejira calendar and the date was fairly indicative of the attitudes. It was kind of like being alive 600 years ago. And yes, many of the cultural practices and educational standards were appropriate for the Middle Ages by our enlightened western standards. But you have to remember that Saudi Arabia was largely undeveloped and cut off from the rest of the world until the 1970s. That’s less than 40 years to evolve from a superstitious, ignorant Middle Age mentality to try to catch up and join the modern world community – and they have a long way to go


P.S. I found that I did have a copy of the “Dear Islam” article from the Arab News about whether it’s permissible to kill a bastard child and stone the mother to death. But I got it wrong when I mentioned it earlier it was strangle the child, not drown it. Must have been thinking about kittens instead of children….


Last edited by Durro on Sat Aug 23, 2008 1:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Treatment of Women in Saudi Arabia – Part 4

Postby Durro » Sat Oct 20, 2007 10:10 am

Hello again and welcome to part 4 of this series about the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia.

As mentioned earlier, women in Saudi Arabia have severe limitations placed upon them with regards to travel. They are not supposed to be in public without a male relative in attendance and cannot drive or book a hotel room. Some wealthier families have “drivers” invariably from 3rd world countries that drive the women, act as escorts/man servants and carry their belongings/shopping. Technically, it’s probably illegal under Saudi Law but it’s one of the few instances where these rules are publicly bent. The Koran does say that women can reveal themselves to their slaves/servants. We did notice however, that the drivers tended to stay a long distance away from their charges and none seemed to have a close relationship with the female family members of their employers. To get too close is to risk facing the prospect of committing adultery which of course is a capital offence.

We went on a couple of weekend scuba diving trips to the Red Sea while we were in Saudi. Each time, it was deliberately arranged by the diving tour group we used that we booked our trip to coincide with a few western single females from our hospital who wanted to go at the same time, so that we could legally “escort” them as a married couple. The dive companies can’t take unescorted single females without risk of prosecution. Leanne and I had to ensure that we had our western marriage licence translated into Arabic and carry it with us to prove that we were married and to take responsibility for the single ladies. The final dive of the day was carefully timed in the early morning so that we could still go on the plane back to Riyadh later that evening without risking getting the bends at altitude – the single girls couldn’t get a hotel room in Jeddah and so had to fly out the same day and of course, we had to escort them on their journey. The only exception to this rule was when western females traveled in and out of the kingdom on international flights – in this instance, they could travel unaccompanied.

The Durro’s with one of the single ladies being escorted by us, taken just after leaving Jeddah. Note that everyone is wearing long clothes – the girls had just ditched their abayas and I am wearing the standard western male clothing – shorts in public aren’t allowed.

For western women, shopping was one of the few outlets from their mundane and restricted existence. Haggling for price is an institution in Saudi Arabia and my wife Leanne turned it into an art form. Apart from being a useful tool for obtaining bargains, it is one of the vehicles that women can use to get assertive, if not actually aggressive, against men. You do have to bear in mind that most shop employees are 3rd world nationals – by law, Saudis own the businesses but overwhelmingly don’t run them personally and generally hire cheap labour to front them. In our experience, the Pakistani and Indian men who manned the shops were generally more subservient than what you might usually expect from a western salesman. Both western women and many Saudi women often delighted in hard bargaining for goods as it was one of the only opportunities for women to take the upper hand against men. Haggling was done in virtually every shop except supermarkets – everything else such as gold, electronics, clothing, Persian carpets and furniture was fair game. As much as I enjoyed the friendly bantering, jokes and the give and take of haggling, Leanne attacked it with gusto and has become our family’s official negotiator with most large purchases. Later when we returned home to Australia, she got $8000 knocked off the price of our cars and $3,000 (35%) off our white goods and furniture when we restocked our home once we returned back. We recently got a new plasma TV, and even several years after returning home from Saudi, I sent in my haggling pit bull terrier to do the deed and she got a $3100 TV for $2300. Herb Cohen move over, because this woman really can negotiate anything.


Other aspects of returning home to Oz weren’t quite as smooth. For about a year after coming home, Leanne was self conscious about wearing shorts and skirts in public, after 5½ years wearing a neck to toe Abaya when out. She was so conditioned to wearing the Abaya that she felt uncomfortable wearing revealing clothing and usually wore jeans or slacks. She still doesn’t wear bikinis at the beach or in our own swimming pool, preferring a more modest one piece swimsuit after a bad experience with arab men staring at the hospital pool when she went for a swim in the hospital pool on a designated “family day” .

I was also able to play a trick on her soon after we got home to Australia – we decided to play cholesterol roulette and have KFC for dinner one particular evening. As we approached Kentucky Duck, I grabbed her by the shoulder and said “Hey, you can’t go in there, that’s the men’s section”. She did a double take, looked around in confusion for the family entrance and it took her a good 5 or 6 seconds for the penny to drop as to where she was. I got a solid thump on the shoulder for that one… 😳

I was having lunch at a sushi place here in Oz a few months ago, and got speaking with the store owner. She revealed that the shop was closing, as her and her family was packing up to move back to Saudi Arabia. We shared experiences and I asked what the reason was for her returning. She said that she had trouble coping with paying bills and managing her household without a maid and was returning to the kingdom as life was “easier” for her. Yes, I should mention that part of the deal over there is that the employer generally provides free, furnished accommodation. There are no electricity bills, gas bills, local phone bills or insurances to pay. Expats usually only have to pay for international phone calls and their personal costs. A lot of returning expats are fairly useless with budgeting and a fair percentage do end up going back to earn the tax free dollars as they are terrible money managers and often burn through their savings. The other issue for foreign families in Saudi is that many expats over there do hire live-in maids. For about 3000 SR per month (less than Aus $1000 per month) plus free food, families can hire a 24 hour live in maid/nanny 6 days per week to cook, clean, shop and child mind. The maids are usually the wives of Eritrean, Filipino or Sudanese workers in kingdom who earn extra money for themselves, often more than doubling their own family’s wages given that street sweepers, taxi drivers and McDonalds’ counter boys don’t get paid much.

In kingdom, sometimes western women get seduced by the dark side of The Force and convert to Islam (Muslims call it “reverting” to Islam, as we’re all apparently born in Allah’s good grace until our minds are poisoned with blasphemy). We knew a few western women who went the whole hog so to speak, and adopted Muslim names and wore Islamic headscarves. One American Radiographer I worked with, Michelle, was a very vivacious and attractive southern belle from down Carolina way who met and fell in love with a Saudi man and converted to Islam before eventually marrying him. She went from outgoing and friendly to more subdued and quiet in a fairly short time. She started wearing headscarves at work, and I was shocked one time to see a veiled woman show up to a westerner’s party, only to see Michelle strip off the veil once she was in the door. She explained to me that her new fiance demanded it to prevent her being “harassed” in public because of her long platinum blonde hair. As soon as she was married, she was no longer allowed to mix with her colleagues out of working hours and became socially isolated.

I have heard many stories of western women who marry Saudis and have a very short honeymoon before the traditional cultural pressures exert themselves and the woman’s place is rigidly defined and restricted by her husband who reverts to type. Many of these marriages end up in divorce, as the western women end up with a “different person” to the man they thought they were marrying. I’d like to mention that under Saudi law, if a foreign woman ends up getting divorced, the Saudi man gains automatic custody of the children and the western ex-wife has no rights. In comparison, a Saudi woman retains the right to keep the children until a boy is 7 and a girl is 9 before she has to hand them over to the father. See the references for these issues at :-

As I mentioned in an earlier post, some women are more equal than others in Saudi Arabia and in particular, the royal family has a different set of rules. It’s rare for them to be held accountable to their own laws, and the “death of a Princess” saga ( … hd_al_Saud ) from the late 70’s was very much an unusual event for a royal family that gets away with tremendous excesses. In our direct experience, Princesses (and there’s thousands of them) usually got around in stylish abayas with very see through veils. Their faces are often heavily made up and they have glimpses of expensive clothing showing through their minimal (but still quite modest by our standards) coverings. I once x-rayed the King’s sister – she had a slight head cold and the doctor requested a paranasal sinuses x-ray series. The Princess refused to come down to the department for her imaging, and so I had to trudge up to the VIP unit to x-ray her portably (a technically very difficult exercise). I was the X-Ray Department’s designated hitter for VIPs and royalty, as I’d already successfully x-rayed the Crown Prince (now King Abdullah) and helped save the life of King Fahd while men with machine guns watched on intently….more on that later. I found the VIP ward to be as opulent as any 5 star hotel – marble floors, sterling silver cutlery and gold leaf embossed plates, solid wood reception desks and luxurious, expensive Persian rugs on the floors. I had to wait for some 30 minute so the princess ( a 67 year old woman) could finish her foot massage and head massage from her two Filipino handmaids. There was consternation from the royal protocol people about taking her veil off for the x-rays, but in the end, the princess and I got to meet eye to eye and had a nice chat in English while I did the unnecessary, but surprisingly technically good x-rays.

The Saudis have a term for being highly ranked on society, or more importantly, having friends in high places. It’s called “Wosta Wu” – it translated literally as “Vitamin A” , but means having powerful connections. Many Saudis used the protection of Wosta to evade traffic fines, get preferential treatment and generally throw their weight around. If you were friends with a particular Prince, or perhaps knew a friend who lived next door to the brother of the guy who was in charge of the – well, you get the idea, then influence could be wielded. We saw promotions and advancement given to male and a few female Saudis with Wosta power. When my section rejected a terrible (male) Saudi student who wanted to join my team, he tried to use Wosta against us and get a few of us westerners fired to make way for him. His Wosta influence with a mid-level hospital administrator was not powerful enough though (I was the V-VIP designated hitter in Radiology), and so we stayed and he ended up leaving for another hospital where he soon got promoted to be in charge of a section, only 1 year out from university.

Leanne did actually turn down an opportunity to be the personal nurse/midwife and nanny for a high ranking princess who was pregnant with triplets and decided that she would go to the USA for her confinement and maybe some recovery time in Britain. She had lined up 3 Filipino NICU nurses to look after each triplet, but was after a western NICU nurse with Midwifery experience to oversee the 3 Filipinas and be the big boss of the nurses and babies while the Princess recovered. Leanne, a senior NICU nurse in her unit and a Midwife was given 1st choice to accompany the Princess to New York. Leanne declined as she didn’t want to be separated from me, but one of her single female colleagues who fitted the bill snapped up the opportunity for international travel whilst getting paid double – once by the princess and she was still being paid by our hospital whilst being seconded to the royal family. Turns out she was away for 6 months, not 3, and spent time in NY and London before going to a villa in Spain where Sean Connery was the next door neighbour (apparently he is very charming over afternoon tea but refuses to talk about movies). Leanne’s colleague got a sizeable monetary bonus and a new car purchased for her (shipped to her home, as she couldn’t drive it in Saudi Arabia) at the completion of her duties.

It wasn’t all roses over there, and in fact, Leanne got woken up by a car bomb that went off in broad daylight a few hundred metres down the road from where we lived in 1995. A reference for the bomb can be found at the CNN website

The blast killed several people including 5 Americans and wounded dozens of others. Leanne was at home sleeping after a night duty shift. The American training facility that was targeted was only a few hundred metres down the street and Leanne said that when the bomb went off, the building shook and the windows vibrated, making her wake up and think that there was an earthquake in progress. She looked out the windows and saw a column of smoke rising down the block on Thalateen Street. We came very close to coming home then and there, but as this was the first real violent episode we’d seen against westerners, and witnessing the extreme security clamp down in the kingdom in the months after, we rationalized that we were statistically safe but curtailed a lot of our extracurricular activities for a while until things settled down.

As westerners, we theoretically lived with the implied threat of violence from Islamic hardliners. Apart from the 1 bombing near home, there weren’t any real signs of overt danger to us. In fact, we often (except in the months following the bombing) walked the streets at night without fear of mugging or attack. Leanne often wore several thousand dollars worth of gold jewelry and there was no instances where she felt unsafe doing so. Overall, we did feel generally safe.

However, both when we were there and after returning home, we did hear about some westerners being pursued in vehicles in road rage incidents, having a pipe bomb placed under a car at a shopping centre, being shot at by an amateur sniper and observing suspicious behaviour by Saudis seemingly reconnoitering western housing compounds. We regularly received faxed warnings from the various embassies about the various incidents and often received advice on keeping a low profile and maintaining personal security. Our softball league was closed down for several months following the tensions of the Riyadh bombing and again after the Dhaharan Bombing which killed hundreds of US military personnel. The recent movie “The Kingdom” about a terrorist attack on a western compound in Saudi Arabia was far too close to home for us and Leanne and I found it personally disturbing viewing ….what could have been, in retrospect…

Some of the softball team boys decided to try and attend the execution of the 4 guys who did the Riyadh bombing which killed the 5 westerners and woke Leanne up. So several of us went down to “chop-chop square” in downtown Riyadh on the Friday we were told it was going to happen. We were forewarned that westerners are generally pushed to the front of the crowd to witness up close Islamic justice. As we were all medical people who have seen the horrors of gunshot wounds, motor vehicle accidents and various other terrible injuries, we figured that we’d be able to stomach a beheading and were interested in seeing justice served to the guys that bombed close to home for us – metaphorically and literally. It turned out that our bravado was unnecessary, as the terrorists were executed on a different day. We did witness however, the spectacle of hundreds of men exiting the local mosque and coming out to the square to spit on the spot where the condemned are executed. It seems that the final indignation for the condemned prisoners is to look down at a mound of phlegmatous sputum that their severed head are about to fall into face first.

Festeringbob asked me a specific question in the discussion thread linked to this forum about women wearing abayas in public given the climate issues. To go you an idea of the heat, Riyadh experiences Death Valley type temperatures for around 4 to 6 months of the year with near zero humidity. It’s arguably the world’s driest, hottest capital city and some friends independently recorded temperatures in the high forties and low 50’s Celsius in the height of summer on a regular basis. That’s over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s like opening an oven and feeling a blast of hot dry air come out at you, except you’re completely surrounded by it. You barely notice any sweating in Riyadh in summer, as any moisture on the skin evaporates off almost instantly. The rest of the year, it’s just damn hot and dry, except for a month or so of cool weather after New Year and 2 or 3 days per year of rain. Of interesting note is that the King publicly calls for a national day of prayer for rain once a year – usually timed for when a huge rain-bearing low pressure front is advancing on the kingdom across Nth Africa. Lo and behold, it usually rains the day after the King’s proclamation, cementing his place as one of Allah’s chosen people and the true Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. In summer – well for about 6 months of the year really – we had to turn our hot water system off in our apartment to get cool water. The “cold” water coming in from the pipes in the street was heated by the sun and sand to near boiling temperatures, and the only way to get cold running water was to let the water in the (switched off) hot water system cool down. The net effect was that for 6 months of the year, cold and hot taps are reversed in function. Anyhow, it’s bloody hot. Fry an egg on the sidewalk hot. And bloody dusty too.

So, with this in mind, consider the women who wear the black coloured neck to toe length abaya all year round. And under their abaya, they still had to wear modest clothing so that no skin would show if the abaya blew up in the breeze or rode up legs when women ascended staircases, etc. For most western women, they avoided going out in the heat of the day, and went from air-conditioned taxis/cars to air-conditioned shops to air-conditioned apartments. But in those instances where outside walking was required, it was damn hot and uncomfortable. Many Saudi women seemed to wear their abayas without cleaning them too often and you could frequently smell them from some distance. Even in the hospital, you could smell the odours of stale sweat and caked on grime/dust drifting down the corridors. A small but significant percentage of Saudi ladies we encountered were absolutely rank in their personal hygiene and their abayas were foul.

In closing, I’d like to refer you to which has an English translation of the Koran and commentary. Some of the things that the Koran says about women are fairly ghastly by our standards (but then again, that applies to the Bible as well in parts). As you’d guess, these discriminatory and sexist beliefs are fairly well adhered to in the conservative Muslim Saudi Arabia. It outlines things like women can only inherit ½ of what men get, 2 women equal one man’s testimony in court and that men shouldn’t pray if they have touched a woman. The link is at … /long.html

Some examples include :-

Men are in charge of women, who should be obedient

Women 4:34 Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded

Don’t pray if you are drunk, dirty or have touched a woman.

Women 4:43 O ye who believe! Draw not near unto prayer when ye are drunken, till ye know that which ye utter, nor when ye are polluted, save when journeying upon the road, till ye have bathed. And if ye be ill, or on a journey, or one of you cometh from the closet, or ye have touched women, and ye find not water, then go to high clean soil and rub your faces and your hands (therewith). Lo! Allah is Benign, Forgiving.

Men are superior to women

The Cow 2:228 …….And they (women) have rights similar to those (of men) over them in kindness, and men are a degree above them. Allah is Mighty, Wise.

Menstruation is an illness and women should not be touched until their period is over.

The Cow 2:222 They question thee (O Muhammad) concerning menstruation. Say: It is an illness, so let women alone at such times and go not in unto them till they are cleansed. And when they have purified themselves, then go in unto them as Allah hath enjoined upon you. Truly Allah loveth those who turn unto Him, and loveth those who have a care for cleanness.

You can have sex with your wife whenever you want.

The Cow 2:223 Your women are a tilth for you (to cultivate) so go to your tilth as ye will, and send (good deeds) before you for your souls, and fear Allah, and know that ye will (one day) meet Him. Give glad tidings to believers, (O Muhammad).

And women are feeble and unable to formulate plans.

Women 4:98 Except the feeble among men, and the women, and the children, who are unable to devise a plan and are not shown a way.

It is from this sort of material that the secular laws of Saudi Arabia are derived, as well as their moral code and cultural traditions. Thousands of years of tribal ignorance compounded by a sexist, misogynistic and backward religion makes for a very different culture to what we experience in the west. It was certainly an eye opener for us.

Well, that’s about it for now. Thanks again for taking the time to read these stories. I’m happy to answer questions on the comments thread.


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Re: Treatment of Women in Saudi Arabia – OP

Postby Durro » Mon Nov 16, 2009 12:18 am

Hello RDF members,

As my signature line says, I’ve been working on writing a book about my experiences during our time in Saudi Arabia. Today, Mon 16th Nov, 2009, I’m actually submitting it for publication for the first time. As part of the process, I had to create a chapter by chapter synopsis of the book, entitled “Santa Claus is a Wanted Man”, and I’ve reproduced it over in the Book Nook part of the forum at :-


Feel free to pop on over there and have a look and leave your comments. I’ll keep you updated with my progress and let you know if it gets published.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone at RDF who encouraged me with this project and in some instances, actively supported me. It was through your encouragement that I finally decided to commit to this project and your hundreds of comments stemming from the above Treatment of Women in Saudi thread and the many PM’s I’ve received have been most appreciated by me.

In particular, I owe tremendous thanks to forum members CJ, Goldenmane and Aesthetic Atheist who graciously volunteered to proof-read the early manuscript drafts and provide feedback and suggestions. Particularly AA, who went through the text with a fine tooth comb and kindly re-educated me about English language conventions and spelling long since forgotten after my High School days many years ago. You three rock. :toast:



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