What Does It Mean To Be a Woman in Modern Saudi Arabia? Listen In!

What Does It Mean To Be a Woman in Modern Saudi Arabia? Listen In!

NEON

Video Editors: Kunal Mehra, Rahul Sanpui
Graphics: Harsh Sahani

What’s the one thing that runs faster than we can imagine, the one thing we seem to be running out of? Time.

For Saudi Arabian women, time has been running at a rapid pace, with monumental changes in the law. On 24 June 2018, Saudi Arabia lifted its long-standing ban on women driving.

‘Have Voice Will Talk’ is a podcast series that brings you unique voices on issues that matter.
‘Have Voice Will Talk’ is a podcast series that brings you unique voices on issues that matter.
(Photo Courtesy: Harsh Sahani/The Quint)

In the past ten years, Saudi women entrepreneurs entered the global scene. They have been investing their time in sports, beauty and fashion, filmmaking, photography, hospitality, and every other field imaginable.

But what do Saudi women do in their spare time? Do they go on long drives, travel, chill at the beach, go to the mall, watch a football match, or even rescue cats?

How are these activities viewed by those around them? Do changes in the law necessarily mean changes in social attitudes as well?

In this season of ‘Have Voice Will Talk’, a podcast series that brings you unique voices on issues that matter, we find out.

Meet the ‘Arab Hawaiian Hippie’

In the first episode of ‘Have Voice Will Talk’, we spoke to the award-winning yoga teacher, Hanan Faiz from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Hanan, who refers to herself as ‘Arab Hawaiian Hippie’, wasn’t always a yoga teacher. In fact, she started her career as a nurse.

Hanan Faiz refers to herself as ‘Arab Hawaiian Hippie’ on Instagram.
Hanan Faiz refers to herself as ‘Arab Hawaiian Hippie’ on Instagram.
(Photo Courtesy: Instagram/Hanan Faiz)
When I entered nursing, I was one of the first to do a night shift. That was unheard of. Usually the night shifts would go to the Filipinos, the Indians, the Pakistanis, and all the expatriates, not the Saudi girls.
Hanan Faiz

Hanan had to quit her nursing job after only two years and then she began to travel around the world, learning and teaching yoga.

Shockingly, the Saudis were so excited about it [the yoga practice], but what really shocked me was that Indian Muslims responded in a very negative way. They said yoga is Hinduism, she is non-Muslim, and she’d be kicked out of Saudi Arabia.
Hanan Faiz

What Do Saudi Women Do in Their Spare Time?

According to Hanan, the usual thing that people do in Saudi Arabia is go to the mall or the beach (if you have access) on weekends. Women can’t swim in public beaches in Saudi Arabia because of hijab, but you do find women in bikinis in private beach resorts.

What you do in your free time, explains Hanan, depends on a number of factors, including your last name. How were you brought up? How religious are you? Who is in your social circle, are all questions that come up.

“Now, We’re Endless.”

Hanan recounts being young in the days of King Fahd when there was a lot of suppression. She says that it was King Abdullah who changed things for Saudi women.

I remember crying when he [King Abdullah] passed away because he had such a huge impact on every single woman in Saudi Arabia. Things started to change rapidly. He passed away and then King Salman came with emir Mohammad and things changed overnight. 
Hanan Faiz

Women wouldn’t put their pictures up on Facebook ten years ago, says Hanan. That has, of course, changed.

Social media now occupies a significant position in the lives of Saudi women, who use various platforms to not only promote their businesses but also to assert their identities.

You’re a disgrace if you put your picture up, right? That was back in the day. Today, profiles are open and women’s pictures are all over social media. We have fashionistas, bloggers, vloggers, and Saudi Arabia has the world’s highest Snapchat users.
Hanan Faiz
If you were to visit here, you can sense this relief happening for women. Ten years ago, I would look around and we would not be so many. Now I look around, we’re endless.
Hanan Faiz

(Have Voice Will Talk is a podcast that connects you with people who have something to say. Sifting through digital noise, we bring you unique voices on issues that matter. Hey, you’re one story away from seeing the world afresh!)

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