Gender & Identity, Life

Just because I’m Saudi doesn’t make me oppressed

I am Saudi. Hear me roar.

When I was younger, my parents made it a tradition to have a family vacation every summer. They wanted us to travel the world as a family to experience and explore other cultures.

Whether we went to the Caribbean, Europe, or Asia, we always met at least one person who was surprised we were Saudi. We did not fit into the image they had of what a Saudi family should look like. But I’ve come to realize that Saudi families rarely look like the stereotypes people have of them.

Growing up, I hated telling people where I was from. When I would mention that I’m Saudi, I could automatically sense them trying to figure out if I fit into what they defined as a Saudi woman. I didn’t want people to think that I had my rights stripped away, or that my family was oppressive in any way. It annoyed me that so many people simply categorized all Saudi women as one and the same. It is definitely more complicated than that, and so I made it my mission to prove their stereotypes wrong.

When I realized that these stereotypes existed, I immersed myself in books on Saudi women, in the different struggles and experiences that many of us face every day. I decided that I could either let the world define who I was, or I could take control of who I wanted to be.

I learned about Saudi activists who proudly broke stereotypes people had about us. Some people believe that we aren’t allowed to pursue our education, start careers, or participate in public life at all. But that isn’t the common scenario for most Saudi women.  They wrote novels about their experiences,  founded law firms that fought for women’s rights, and even climbed mountains that only a few dared to journey.

These women were taking their own destiny into their hands and were determined to change the way the world (and the country) saw them. They no longer want to be seen as passive and oppressed by the rest of the world, and they don’t want the people in their country to think of them as weak or incapable of success. They wanted to pave the way so that other Saudi women did not have to overcome the same barriers and stereotypes they did.

Take a look at Lubna Olayan, a Saudi billionaire businesswoman, who worked tirelessly for almost 20 years to bring in 400 female employees into her father’s company. She recognized the need to hire more women to not only overcome stereotypes people have of Saudi women’s abilities but to also aid in the company’s progress.

Saudi scientist Dr. Hayat Sindi is another badass woman who just proves that we are so much more than the labels people give us. Dr. Sindi co-founded the “Diagnostics for All” organization at Harvard in order to develop a new technological innovation that could change the lives of so many people across the world. She also launched the Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity in 2011, which aims to help scientists to launch their ideas and find sponsors to support them. Her aim was to provide opportunities for Middle Easterners to develop their entrepreneurship skills in order to aid the progression of creative ideas in the region.

And so, like so many women before me, I have decided to do the same. I want my writing to be a way that I can share my experience, as well as provide a voice for women who feel like they can’t out of fear that their ideas will be dismissed as unimportant or untrue. I want to be able to discuss taboo topics like women’s sexuality or intimacy and share my own insights, but also learn more about what others have to say on the topic.  I will continue to push boundaries and fight for what I believe in no matter what obstacles stand in my way. I know from the women I’ve read about that it won’t be an easy thing to do, but I know that it will be worth it. All I can hope for is that someone somewhere will be inspired by what I have to say the same way that so many women have inspired me.

So I am no longer embarrassed to say I’m a Saudi woman. In fact, I couldn’t be prouder. I know that other people’s perceptions do not determine my potential. I choose to make a change because I am a Saudi woman not despite it.