Today’s focus was on women’s empowerment. So far, this has been my favorite day in KSA!
This morning was my favorite visit throughout the whole study visit. We arrived at Nafisa Shams Academy (NSA); with a large welcome. NSA is a women’s empowerment group funded by the government that allows women to learn employment skills in the field of art. The women of Jeddah produce handmade prayer rugs, prayers beads, women’s clothing, pottery, paintings, and even learn to cook. Coincidentally, a graphic designer from the all-women’s college founded it! The women showed us their kitchen for cooking lessons and the materials used to make the suede prayer rugs. I purchased gorgeous prayer beads made from crystals and black feathers in addition to coconut and almond handmade soap. It felt good to purchase for a great cause and I loved the women’s excitement as they boxed our items.
Following the arts & crafts center, we went to Jeddah’s commerce center to meet with the Women of AlSayedah Khadijah Bint Khawilid business initiative/lobby. For those of you that do not know, Khadijah was the wife of the Prophet Mohammad and was a successful business woman.
For our business meeting, we met with a woman that described the organizations goal as to integrate women into the workforce, but before that recognize the obstacles in place. Certain obstacles stated were lack of public transportation, poor English language skills, and lack of interest (it is up to a woman’s family /husband to provide ALL financial needs). She explained that women are not seeking equality, but rather a balance. (If you read the group’s mission statement…it seems they are seeking equality but again, this could be a language barrier)
She explained they do not want reverse roles for example their husband’s raising children. I think as Americans, the fellows as a whole were taken back by this. I had to remind myself however, that in the 1950’s American’s would be the phenomena of role reversal so why should I feel that Saudi Arabia would be so open to the idea?
We reached the hotel and started packing our belongings for the airport and the arrival into the capital city of Riyadh. I was happy with our conclusion in Jeddah. I am glad I was able to see diversity in KSA along with progression. Even if in my eyes it is slow progression, it is still change.
I have now settled into the last hotel of my study visit in Saudi Arabia. We arrived around 2:00am and none of the fellows were tired so we met in the lobby to reflect and talk. We forgot how much more conservative Riyadh is and we got a few glares and snarls. We wanted to be respectful and figured we should go to bed anyways.