Manal Al Dowayan
I am an Educator from the series I am
What jobs suit my nature as a woman? This is a question that haunts me when I meet successful working women in my home country of Saudi Arabia. In this context, politicians, businessmen, society and the local community surrounding the Saudi woman continue to ask these questions: Where can women work? And what can they do?
Many politicians and religious figures in Saudi Arabia have hijacked the dialogue of women and employment and turned it into an issue that threatens our Saudi identity and may lead to the loss of our Islamic faith. Women leaving the home, earning money (something that might lead to her independence), mixing with men are the main pillars of the argument. Some who try to appease both sides argued that women can work in jobs that “suit their nature”. That statement was the basis of the “I AM” collection.
In this collection I examine my nature and I wonder, is my nature as a woman another limitation on my potential that I need to overcome or accept?
In my search for answers I found inspiration from the history of Arabian women who have, for thousands of years, worked for their families while the men were away in the desert. Women have traditionally been the wage earners in the family and only with the recent events of the oil boom and urban transformations in the region did women abandon this role. But things have now changed with “women making up 55% of undergraduates, but only 15% of the labor force”(Chu&Radwan, TIME)
The 2003 Arab Human Development Report identified the “deficit in women’s empowerment” as one of three key impediments to “progress in the Arab world”… So it is no longer an issue of whether a woman should work, but rather, when can women become involved in the development of their country.
Women are increasingly joining the workforce and contributing their intelligence, energy and motivation to improve their lives and those of their families. They have also become contributors to their country’s economy and active participants in the decision-making process.
The collection “I am” hosts a variety of Saudi Arabian women who perform important roles in Saudi society through their careers. At the same time each photograph has a piece of traditional jewelry placed in an obstructive and unnatural way, questioning cultural traditions that prevent Saudi women from expanding their roles in society.
Although the history of the Arab woman inspires me, it is the modern Arab woman that motivates and gives me courage. I hope that women with education and financial independence will become fully and actively involved in shaping the decisions that affect their future and the futures of their daughters.
Today less than 3% of Saudi Arabian women work will this change? When?
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