On April 23rd newspapers reported that 100,000 applicants applied within one week of first announcing vacancies in women government jobs. While a month before it took three weeks to get 50,000 applicants for men government jobs. And the report quietly disappeared without much fuss about its implications and the hopelessness that Saudi women are going through. Yes it’s true that education is free and the majority of these women never had to pay tuition fees on school or university, actually they were given a monthly allowance (stipend) for studying after high school. Saudis have been paid to study since higher education first opened in the country as a way to get more people literate faster. And it worked because just three generations ago literacy was less than 50%.
It worked so well that most people younger than forty have a college degree. And even though women studied and graduated in larger numbers than men, yet it seems like they are expected to think of the whole educational experience as a past-time or just something to make them more desirable as marriage material. Now that all the segregated fields (mostly education) are bursting at the seams with all that human resources, the rest of these women have nowhere to go and little money to spend.
To have a hundred thousand applicants in one week in a part of society with which mobility is an issue should be a matter of great concern, especially considering that there are over 5 million migrant workers taking up jobs like selling lingerie, waiters and chefs and even our hotel industry is mostly run by non Saudis. All the while, Saudi women wilt at home waiting for the government to employ them in jobs that are proper for them to take. Because if they don’t take up something proper they are very likely to have our society drag their reputation and that of their families in the mud. Society does this in its own quiet way without much word getting back to the women concerned. The only apparent sign is a dry up in the number of suitors to all the daughters of that family. Just this week a Saudi news website gave this cultural punishment to a group of Saudi women journalists in a much louder form. The website reported that these lady reporters slept with their editors, smoked pot, drank and had so-called red nights at vacation houses on the outskirts of the city. And I’m glad to say that these women are fighting back with a lawsuit against the website. A lawsuit that the ladies are highly likely to win because our courts tend to bring the hammer down hard when it comes to making outright false allegations that tarnish family honor.
Financial gain in the form of student stipends and later employment salaries has gotten women over the mountain of family consent to study and then teach. Even the most conservative daddies and hubbies just can’t resist that boost to the family income. With the economy slowing down and the rise in living costs, financial gain might again come to the rescue of women in the form of larger numbers of families no longer being able to afford drivers and in expanding society’s definition of proper jobs for women.