Growing up I never had to see any women around me struggle with finding a ‘work life balance’ because women didn’t work much. They were either teachers or worked in hospitals. A few women owned their own businesses but had to have men run them. And the large majority of women I knew worked for the non profit sector running charities or working in them. I would say these charities were where I saw Saudi women working the most. They were a force to be reckoned with.
We also saw women doctors. I remember going to the eye doctor to get lenses for the first time when in walked a tall, thin woman wearing a niqab (face cover with opening for eyes). She was the opthemologist. Her hands, which were the only body parts I could see, were beautiful.
Her nails immaculate (being a life long nail bitter I notice these things). But women who worked in hospitals sometimes had a stigma because they worked in a mixed environment. I later learned that the majority of women who wore niqab’s in the hospital only did so to avoid this stigma and indeed never wore them anywhere else!
I went to an all female school and was taught exclusively by women, but the majority of them were Syrian. One year I remember distinctly there was a surge in the number of Saudi women in managerial positions and some teaching positions in school. They were always well coiffed, smelled nice, wore nice shoes and had make up on. They didn’t look like the typical teachers we were used to seeing, harried and there to do a job.
Then in 2010 things began to change. Mainly because of huge reform in laws that used to restrict women working in Saudi. This was the beginning of the King Abdullah era which saw the number of women in the workforce rise from 55,000 to 454,000 in 3 years! Suddently, women were in the work force, working along side men in many cases.
There was a mixed reaction to this change. Families could see the importance and benefit of adding another income, but at the same time, were conflicted about the women of the family going into the work environment and gaining independence. The women who were already in the work force were a huge support for the women newly coming into it. But men had a hard time working with women. Some didn’t respect them, others had no idea what do with them or where to look or how to address them. In the case of my cousin, who is the head of a non profit organisation, some men flat out refused to talk to her util they realised that they would not be offered an alternative and either had to work with her of shove off.
Then there is me. I have always felt the need to do something.
Since I got married at the age of 22 I have been planning, and researching and imagining this business I would open. I have files and files of papers printed, notes scribbled, suppliers contacted over the years until, finally, my dream was realised. Before opening my business it was a breeze working on it while being a ‘good’ wife and a ‘good’ homemaker and a ‘good’ mother. My time was my own and I worked when I liked. And it was still a dream… not a commitment.
Then I opened… and my life changed. I cannot speak for the women for whom work is a necessity. The ones who’s families depend on them to live. I do not think they have the pleasure of having this ‘life work balance’ conversation because without work there would be no life. Such as Um Ahmed who worked for a while as a cleaning lady at my center. She was the sole breadwinner of her family. When I met her she was in her late 30’s, she had 5 children, none of which worked. What blew me over was when she told me she would have to take a day off or leave early every few weeks as she was learning to read and write and wanted to sit her exams. Um Ahmed left a year after working for me as she got pregnant and had to stay home with her 6th baby.
In my case, working was a choice. It did come from a need to realise a dream I truly believed would be beneficial to society even in a small way. It was a necessity in that sense but it was very much a choice I made. No one is relying on any money I could potentially make (God willing at some point) from my business.
Society here puts the burden of making everything work on the woman. If the marriage fails they look at what the woman didn’t do. If the children turned out messed up they looked at the mother. If the house was less than pristine they looked at the wife. If the husband strayed they say “did you see how his wife let herself go?’.
I remember talking to a school teacher as we sat in a restaurant with her 11 month old and a few friends. She looked tired and harried while she bobbed her child on her knee and told us all about how when she gets home from work she makes dinner immediately so she has time to shower and fix her hair and get dressed up for her husband before he got home from work. She tried to make sure her son was calm and clean for his father.
She even gave us suggestions of things to do to make our husbands lives easier and more interesting (from having him walk in on you wearing your wedding dress to having him walk in on you wearing nothing… not sure what she did with her son in these instances).
She said “you know, we have to make sure they are happy and comfortable”, and I said “who makes sure you are happy and comfortable?”, and she looked surprised, then laughed at the absurdity of it. I went on saying “what little things does he do for you? take you out to dinner? Give your son a bath? Help with the house work?” she didn’t like this line of questioning and thought I was being rude I think so I dropped it.
In our society women must look beautiful for their husbands. And if you are lucky then you have a husband who at least tries to look presentable for you. I remember going to see a child counsellor when I was pregnant with my second child because of an anxiety issue my son had. I walked into her office, 8 months pregnant with my daughter, and talked to her about my son.
Somehow we ended up talking about me and about how I needed to make an effort in the way I look! She said “why don’t you have any makeup on? did you husband see you like this before you left the house?” Needless to say I left the office and never came back.
But it goes without saying that if you, like me, work because you want to work not because you have to work, and that work means you will not be perfumed, creamed and coiffed and wide awake for your husband when he comes back from seeing his friends at night, then you have failed. If your house is not totally impeccable then you have failed. If you don’t look like you stepped out of some sort of magazine at least 85% of the time then you have failed.
We have not entered, nor do I think we will ever, the phase of being proud of our mommy pants and the fact that we look tired because, well, we work hard and we are tired. Regardless of how hard you work or how much you have accomplished you will always be expected to maintain yourself. And in most cases it is down to you to make life interesting, entertaining and comfortable for your husband and children.
How do I feel about this? Even though, in the light of how much I have put into this business and how obsessed I was when starting it and how supportive my husband has been, (He only asked me to shut it down once when we were on vacation and I spent my whole time Skyping the staff.) I feel like I am failing probably about 60% of the time.
My husband works from home, and therefore, sleeps late. This means that I sleep late because I love spending time with him one on one. And by the time my kids are in bed he would have gone out to see his family or friends, and I would do the same. On most nights I would go out just to avoid falling asleep on the couch or in some instances I would fall asleep with my kids do and have a late nap till her comes home!
How is your life similar? How is your life different?
This an original blog post by World Mom, Mama B. of Saudi Arabia. You can also find her at her blog, YaMaaMaa.
Photo credit to Roberto Trombetta. This photo has a creative commons attribution noncommercial license. It has not been altered.
Saudi women have the right to vote for the first time in their country. A woman proudly holds up her filled out voting registration form. The first voting day will take place on December 12, 2015.
In 2011 King Abdullah (God rest his soul) declared that Saudi women would have the right to vote and run in the municipal elections in 2015. When I first heard the news of women being allowed to vote and nominate themselves I imagine many women felt as I did, overjoyed, excited and, slightly doubtful that the day will come.
It’s one thing to have it said, and an entirely other thing to have it happen. Over the last few weeks women have, for the first time in Saudi history, registered to vote!
Every article or news piece I have read about this event has had a ‘however’ attached to the end of it. You won’t find any ‘however’s’ in this one though. Every situation has a ‘however’, but the change that has happened for women in our country over the last ten years alone shows me that these ‘however’s’ right now are just rain on a very well deserved parade.
Saudi women are held up to the litmus test of the west that totally ignore (or are ignorant of) the fact that Saudi women have been campaigning for this right and other rights for over a generation. The foreign media also seems to be ignorant about the role society and culture play in these advancements.
It’s not as easy as flipping a switch or changing a law (contrary to popular belief there actually is no law against women driving in Saudi Arabia, it’s just not culturally accepted). It is more like rewiring a circuit board. (Now, I would lie if I told you I had any idea what that involved, but i am quite sure you cannot just do it willy nilly and have to take into account all the other hundreds of wires before messing with one.)
A message board in Saudi Arabia provides voting registration information for women.
The thing people also don’t give us credit for is how hard-working we Saudi women are. And believe us, there is no one more adamant on us getting our rights than ourselves. Small changes are happening that have a big impact on our society’s perception of the role of women outside of the home, in businesses and in government.
For the first few months after women joined the Shoura council, during the televised portions, when any of the women were talking, the camera men didn’t know where to focus. Fast forward to a year later, and the cameras are clearly focused on the strong female representatives broadcasting their voices and their faces* clearly.
There is not one road block stopping the progress of women’s rights in Saudi, but rather, there are many small holes and bumps and detours to get around and navigate. For the first time since women being granted the right to get an education, we are seeing fundamental change that cannot be taken away from us. It is exhilarating.
There has been contagious buzz in the air since registration opened. The Saudi Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs (MOMRA) launched a campaign, website and an app with all the information needed to register to vote or run in the municipality elections. The philanthropic women’s society, Alnahdha, held one of the biggest campaigns to spread awareness around the elections and how to register. They held workshops and partnered up with local businesses and other NGOs to spread the message of “your vote makes a difference” campaign.
Saudi women taking part in the campaign to spread voter registration information to women.
Small business even got on board. Many taxi services such as Easy Taxi and Careem offered free rides for any women who wanted to register to vote. Uber carried flyers and information about voting in their cars.
A lunch tray in Saudi Arabia advertises women’s voting registration.
Registration closed on the 10th of September, and the vote is on the 12th of December. According to MOMRA 22% of the registered voters are women and 16% of the candidates running are women.
Thinking of my daughter now, I pray that she will be shocked she was alive when women were still not allowed to vote. I pray she can’t imagine what it was like to not have full power over your life and your decisions because of your gender.
And for the first time I believe without a doubt that change is not only coming, it is here, just pay attention. It’s moving fast!
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by World Mom, Mama B. in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Photo credits to the author.
Cynthia and her daughters take a family selfie after voting
I’m an American and I voted on November 4th. I’m guessing that most of the global readership of World Moms blog didn’t follow our elections because this is not a presidential election year, but that’s okay. A lot of Americans didn’t either. That’s not okay.
Shamefully, only 38% of Americans voted in this November 4th election, which means 6 in 10 of us didn’t vote.
But that’s life. Low voter turn out in the off years of politics is just the way it goes. People tune out without the razzle-dazzle of a presidential slugfest and a new Congress is elected. But, now what do we do if we want to make our country better? Do we have to wait another two years to have a say? No. Not at all!
As angry as some people in my country tend to get with the leader of our country, the president of the United States is not the only one who has influence over policies that have wide-reaching impact on the lives of Americans and all residents of planet Earth. Members of Congress are elected to represent us in our 50 states and have their own measure of power on domestic and global affairs that can help or hinder a presidential agenda. For instance, the president can make budget recommendations, but only Congress can approve the actual spending of money. Budget decisions, foreign aid policies, gun laws, environmental policies, and a host of other choices are made by senators and representatives all year round.
This leads me to my main point. Election day is not the only day when Americans have a voice in government.
Since important decisions are being made every day, then every single day is an opportunity for Americans to shape U.S. policies whether it be through tweeting, blogging, writing letters to the editor, calling members of Congress, writing handwritten letters to Congress, or meeting face-to-face in Congressional offices. All of these actions are open to us. It is our right as citizens. (By the way, even if you’re not a citizen you can still write to U.S. newspapers or use Twitter to organize)
The idea that Americans can only affect what our government does only once every 4 years is a naive and antiquated notion.
U.S. Representative Jan Schakowksy of Illinois reads a letter from Cynthia’s children about supporting global child survival programs.
TV news – or any news, really – would lead anyone to think that voting or contributing large amounts of money are the only things that citizens can do. When so many people don’t know what kinds of effective actions they can personally take, most people end up just frustrated and giving up on our system without ever truly being a part of it. That’s the bad news. The good news is that this huge gap between most citizens and government creates space for concerned citizen lobbyists to slide right in and have great impact. I’m talking about everyday, concerned citizens just like you!
Even a modest amount of 10-20 phone calls on a topic can sometimes greatly influence a member of Congress because few Americans really bother to do it. A constituent meeting face-to-face with congressional staff or an actual member of Congress is even more rare and makes even more impact. These simple actions can have a great effect, especially if it’s an important yet little known issue.
Take, for example, funding to fight tuberculosis (TB), a highly contagious airborne disease. Most people in the U.S. think it doesn’t even exist anymore if they’ve ever thought about it at all. The truth is that in 2012, 8.6 million people fell ill with TB and more than 1.3 million people died from it, making TB the most deadly curable disease in the world. 95% of cases happening in low or middle-income countries, but since it spreads through the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks it can jump to wealthy nations even easier than Ebola. If treated improperly or ignored, it gives rise to forms of multi drug-resistant TB, which are far more difficult and costly to treat. RESULTS volunteer advocates keep up the drumbeat to members of Congress to fund the very inexpensive treatments to save lives across the globe and in the U.S. to make a tremendous impact on the dignity and income of people in poverty who can keep working in good health. Since no one is actually lobbying against saving lives from TB, a relatively small number of volunteers can educate their elected officials about it and have a huge impact on global health to the tune of $1.1 billion in new resources last year and $1.4 billion overall for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. All this is done by earnest citizens voicing opinions without the media circus of an election cycle.
Cynthia and fellow RESULTS activist Richard Smiley talk to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of IL about microfinance
Every election day, I encourage my fellow Americans to get out and vote, to be sure! That’s where engaged citizenship starts. But we shouldn’t stop there. Let our elected officials know what you want after they’re in office even if – especially if – they are not of the party you favor. Get involved with an advocacy group that shares your global outlook and desires to help mothers and children. (ONE, RESULTS, Shot@Life, and Bread for the World are great places to start) In our country, senators and representatives represent are supposed to work for US. It is your right and privilege to contact them on the issues that are important to you. Don’t waste it!
This is an original post written by Cindy Levin for World Moms Blog.
Do you vote?
Photo by Jennifer Prestholdt
Hidden Child Labor
While millions of tourists visit Morocco every year, very few are aware of a hidden human rights abuse that is occurring behind closed doors in Morocco’s cities. Morocco has one of the worst child domestic labor problems in North Africa. The International Labour Organization (ILO) has estimated that between 66,000 and 88,000 children between the ages of 7 and 15 – 70% of whom are under age 12 – are working as domestic servants in Morocco.
These children work long hours for little pay and often suffer physical and other forms of abuse. Because domestic work is “women’s work” in Morocco, virtually all of these child domestic workers are girls. In Morocco (a country with a French colonial history), these child domestic workers are called petites bonnes or “little maids”.
I had the opportunity to learn more about the petites bonnes issue during a recent trip to Morocco. The United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs describes the problem like this:
Young girls are sent to work as live-in domestic servants, often before they reach age 10. Parents sell their daughters or receive payment of wages in exchange for their daughters’ service. These petites bonnes (little maids) often face conditions of involuntary servitude, including long hours without breaks; physical, verbal and sexual abuse; withheld wages and even restrictions on their movement. Frequently, they are sent from rural villages to more urban areas, and ﬁnd it difficult to make their way home. Most petites bonnes are denied an education, and illiteracy rates are high among this population.
The Difficult Life of a Petite Bonne
The situation of petites bonnes in Morocco results from a combination of poverty, gender inequality, and lack of access to education. Girls – some as young as my own 8-year-old daughter – are sent to work as petites bonnes to generate income to support their families. They come from poor rural areas to work in cities such as Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech, Tangiers, Agadir, and Fes. Intermediaries generally broker the arrangement, receiving a fee from the employer. Petites bonnes interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported that their employers frequently beat and verbally abused them, denied them the chance to go to school, and sometimes even refused to provide them with adequate food and sleeping facilities.
In a strange city, separated from their families and often speaking a Berber language instead of the Arabic spoken by a majority of Moroccans, many petites bonnes are extremely isolated and vulnerable. The isolation, along with the privacy of the homes, increases the chance of sexual abuse by male members of their employers’ household. In fact, several studies have found that many unwed young mothers in shelters in Morocco were petites bonnes when they became pregnant.
The difficult life of a petite bonne sometimes ends tragically. The widely reported story of little Khadija, an 11-year-old petite bonnewho was beaten to death by her employer in July 2011, raised calls for the government to take action on the issue. In January 2013, a 17 year old petite bonne in Casablanca attempted suicide by jumping from the fourth floor of her employers’ home. Amateur video of the suicide attempt that was circulated on the internet shocked Moroccans. Most recently, on March 24, 2013, a young domestic worker was taken to the hospital in Agadir with third degree burns on multiple parts of her body. Only 14 years old, she died from the injuries allegedly inflicted by her employers, prompting a UN representative in Morocco to decry child domestic labor by girls as “one of the worst forms of child exploitation” and call on the government to take action. Yet, thousands of petites bonnes in Morocco continue to suffer in silence.
Gaps in Legal Protection
According to NGOs working to help petites bonnes in Morocco, part of the problem relates to gaps in and difficulties with implementation of Moroccan laws. While Moroccan law prohibits employment of children under the age of 15, Morocco’s Labor Code does not apply to domestic work. Therefore, the Labor Codes’ protections for workers regarding hours worked (44 hours per week) and pay (2,333 dirhams or approximately $261 per month) do not apply. Human Rights Watch has documented that petites bonnes work long hours, often seven days a week. They earn an average of 545 dirhams (approximately $61) per month, but some earn as little as 100 dirhans (approximately $11).
In addition, Morocco ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1993 and the ILO Convention No 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor. Both international treaties prohibit economic exploitation and employment of children in work that is likely to be hazardous, interfere with their education, or harm their health, safety or development. Unfortunately, neither have been implemented in a way that provides adequate protection to the petites bonnes.
Some Progress in Protecting Children
There is some indication that things are starting to change in Morocco. The government and international human rights organizations report that the number of girls working as petites bonnes is declining. This is due in part to the fact that public awareness about the problems faced by petites bonnes has been raised because of increased media attention to the issue and public education campaigns undertaken by the Moroccan government, NGOs, and United Nations agencies. The Moroccan government has also taken steps to increase school enrollment and this has helped reduce the number of children engaged in child labor.
Yet still more needs to be done. Since 2006, the government has been working on a draft law on domestic work that would for the first time establish a legal framework to better protect petites bonnes, secure rights such as a weekly day of rest and annual leave, and impose sanctions on employers. The Moroccan government has said that the draft Law on Domestic Workers is one of its priorities, but the bill has not yet been considered and passed by Parliament.
Take Action on June 12 – World Day Against Child Labour!
The problem of child domestic workers is not unique to Morocco. In fact, there are an estimated 15.5 million child domestic workers worldwide. The widespread use of children as domestic servants is one of the most hidden forms of child labor.
The exploitation of children, particularly girl domestic workers like petites bonnes, is a serious violation of children’s rights. It perpetuates inequality and inter-generational poverty, and deprives girls of their right to education, health, participation and protection. It also prevents children from acquiring the life skills and education necessary to improve their future.
To draw attention to the issue of child labor, the United Nations has recognized June 12 as the World Day Against Child Labour. In 2013, the focus is on child domestic workers like the petites bonnes of Morocco. On the 2013 World Day Against Child Labour, the international community is calling for legislative and policy reforms to ensure the elimination of child labor in domestic work and the provision of decent work conditions and appropriate protection to young workers in domestic work who have reached the legal working age. In Morocco, the government should:
• Strictly enforce the minimum age of 15 for all employment (including domestic work) and ensure that all children (particularly girls) enjoy the right to free and compulsory basic education;
• Adopt a domestic worker law that ensures compliance with the 2011 ILO Convention 189 on decent work for domestic workers
• Create an effective system for identifying, removing and rehabilitating child domestic workers from illegal or abusive employment.
• Criminally prosecute individuals responsible for violence or other criminal offenses against child domestic workers.
In addition, the World Day Against Child Labour provides the opportunity for all of us to take action to build the worldwide movement against child labor.
Take Action to end child labor. Learn what you can do to inform yourself and raise awareness in your community. The ILO’sSCREAM (Supporting Children’s Rights through Education, the Arts and Media) programme has factsheets, presentations, postcards, poems, and more. The SCREAM education pack is available in multiple languages.
Join the 12to12 to End Child Labour community. Learn more about the issue and join the 12to12 Community Portal, which provides a common platform for experience and knowledge sharing on research, activities and events related to the World Day Against Child Labour.
Find out what kids and teens can do to help. The ILO’s Youth in Action against Child Labour campaign has ideas, information, videos and other resources to help young people take action to end child labor.
Make a pinwheel with your kids. The pinwheel has become the symbol of the international fight against child labor. The pinwheel campaign to raise awareness about child labor began in Brazil in 2004. The five blades of the pinwheel represent the different continents of the world and the wind that makes the pinwheel spin is the will to act and to pass on the message until all countries take adequate measures to end child labor. Download a kit to make a pinwheel to keep the movement going!
This is an original World Moms Blog post written by Jennifer Prestholdt.
Were you aware of the international child labor issue? Does it exist in the country in which you live?
World Moms Blog Senior Editor, Purnima Ramakrishnan, with her grandmother and friends speak about the importance of vaccines.
It was like a dream come true for Purnima Ramakrishnan of Chennai, India one morning this week. Just a few days ago she received confirmation that she had won the BlogHER International Activist Scholarship for her social good work on her blog, The Alchemist’s Blog, and as a Senior Editor, here, at World Moms Blog.
At the end of July, she will be on her way to Chicago, Illinois in the USA to present her work along with the three other international scholarship winners.
The e-mail from BlogHER stated, “Thank you for submitting your work for consideration to receive the International Activist Blogger Scholarship! We are so pleased to let you know that after careful deliberation, our selection committee has selected you as one of four recipients of this year’s scholarship!” (more…)