In a world that has progressed immensely in the societal domain, where society strives to shrug off the remaining bits of misogyny and male chauvinism, it is dispiriting to observe the status of women in Saudi Arabia. Women require the permission of their guardian men, mahram, to perform the simplest of tasks, like opening a bank account. At the same time, ironically, there is a stronger presence of women on university campuses than that of men. However, in a kingdom that is under the choking grips of staunch senior clerics, there is little space for the progress of women.
Majd Abdulghani, a twenty year old girl living in Saudi Arabia, provides us with very insightful episodes into her life. As she records on her microphone for a Podcast by Radio Diaries, the deep sense of passion and hope in her voice is quite palpable. Majd is different from the other girls. There is an innate sense of questioning the norms that her mother and the rest of her family seem to have easily accepted.
Being a country that has no minimum age restrictions for the marriage of women, Majd started receiving proposals from men since she turned 19. As a bachelor’s student in King Saud University with a brimming with a desire to study and make a difference to the world, though, Majd confessed she had no intentions of marrying anyone so soon.
Majd shares a pretty casual relationship with her four brothers and her parents. Her work in the university genetics lab involves interactions with men, which, according to her, is a little strange, but not unnerving. There are certain rules she has to follow, though, like completely avoid shaking hands, or any other form of body contact. Her family has accepted this as her field of work, so they don’t have a problem.
Karate at the female gym in Saudi Arabia is her passion. She refers to it as The Fight Club. Taking Karate classes is very unusual for girls in the Arabic country, something her father had picked on. He had already expressed he wished her to discontinue with Karate, since it makes her less feminine. But her parents fail to understand that Karate is more than just physical training for her – its an art, its something she can lose herself in, and not think about anything else at that time. They want her to start getting accustomed to the kitchen, so she could fulfill her responsibilities as a wife and keep her husband happy in the future. That is how the society looks at women and marriage in Saudi Arabia – performing wifely duties and taking care of home – something that seems illogical to Majd.
It is mandatory for women to wear an abaya, a long black over-garment, and a niqab, that is worn over the face so that they don’t “show off their beauty”. Her brother believes there should be an opening for only one eye in the niqab, so that a maximum area is covered. While it is again unfair and misogynistic, Majd looks at this custom with a unique set of eyes. She says the prospect of walking down the streets fully covered from head to toe is quite exhilarating. In the university, which houses separate campuses for men and women, Majd can roam freely without the abaya, and wear make up, and truly be herself, which is a more liberating experience.
A year later, studying at King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST), Majd received another proposal from a boy, who is well-mannered and polite, according to her parents. Agreeing to meet with him and bearing just a one percent chance of saying yes, she traveled back to her hometown from her dorms in the University.
On the day of the meet, Majd saw “the guy” asking her hand for marriage, and found him pretty handsome. And like all couples that always start with their first awkward and nervous conversations, Majd and the man shared greetings and introduced themselves. Majd was content with his answers. Anmar wanted to come up with an invention to change the way energy is used in Saudi Arabia, and he didn’t seem to mind that her interests were Karate and genetics. But the one statement that he said stuck with her: “We’ll push each other to the top.”
Since her marriage with Anmar, Majd has been accepted into a masters program in genetics, and is well on the way to achieve her dreams. Even the shackles of society hasn’t held her back in being fulfilling everything that she believes in, and this helps her stand out as a paradigm for other women in Saudi Arabia.
-By Saurabh Bodas
Saurabh is pursuing engineering and is an intern at NewsGram. Twitter handle: saurabhbodas96
U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to review a full report from his administration Tuesday about the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey last month.
Multiple U.S. news agencies have cited U.S. intelligence officials saying the Central Intelligence Agency has concluded Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the October 2 killing.
The State Department said publicly Saturday no final conclusions had been reached.
Saudi officials have denied the crown prince had anything to do with Khashoggi’s killing, and Trump has called reports blaming the crown prince as “premature.”
A Saudi prosecutor cleared the crown prince of wrongdoing last week while calling for the death penalty for five men, announcing indictments against 11. The prosecutor said a total of 21 people had been detained in connection with the killing.
Germany’s foreign minister said Monday that Berlin will ban 18 Saudi nationals from entering Europe’s border-free Schengen zone because of their alleged links to Khashoggi’s killing. Heiko Maas said he had consulted with France and Britain before announcing the ban.
“There are more questions than answers in this case, with the crime itself and who is behind it,” Mass said on the sidelines of a European Union meeting in Brussels.
Trump says he has been fully briefed on an audio recording of the killing of the dissident Saudi journalist inside Riyadh’s consulate in Istanbul last month, but has no intention of listening to it because of the violence it depicts.
“It’s a suffering tape. It’s a terrible tape,” Trump told the Fox News cable television station in a White House interview that was recorded Friday.
“It’s very violent, very vicious and terrible,” Trump said.
Asked in the Fox interview if the crown prince lied to him about his involvement, Trump replied, “I don’t know. Who can really know?” adding, “He told me that he had nothing to do with it. He told me that, I would say, maybe five times at different points, as recently as a few days ago.”
Fox interviewer Chris Wallace asked Trump whether he would go along with moves in Congress to cut off U.S. involvement in the Saudi-led war in Yemen or halt arms sales to Riyadh.
Trump said it depends, “I want to see Yemen end. It takes two to tango and Iran has to end also. I want Saudi to stop, but I want Iran to stop also.”
Khashoggi, who wrote opinion columns for The Post and was a critic of the Saudi crown prince, was killed at the Saudi consulate while he was trying to get documents for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman. (VOA)