Saudi women break taboos with unconventional jobs

Updated 29 January 2014
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Saudi women break taboos with unconventional jobs

Financial hardship and social circumstances have forced many Saudi women to accept jobs that they would have rejected in the past for traditional reasons.
“After my divorce, I stayed at my parent’s house with my five children,” said Um Nawal, a 30-year-old divorced mother. Her father told her to give up her children if she wanted to live in the family house.
“I refused, left the house and rented a place of my own. A friend told me about a job as a saleswoman at a women’s shop,” she said.
Um Nawal said, “I really needed income for my children to live a decent life. I accepted, but was embarrassed at first. I have since become the director of the branch.”
She explained that not working for fear of social reprimand is redundant, especially if the job can be carried out in a safe environment.
Bariah Ali, an event manager at a hotel, agreed with her: “I am a divorced woman with no children, but my financial situation is poor. I badly needed to earn my own fixed income to live a decent life.”
She said she found this job “despite my family’s objections, who care for our traditions as a conservative family.”
“I now earn more than my sister, who has been working as a teacher for 15 years,” said Ali.
Asmma, a director of a women’s shop, said she got a job as a saleswoman within six months of her divorce.
“I needed an income to provide for my children and pay rent. There is no shame in a woman working to provide for her family if the job is within a decent environment,” she said. She added that Saudi women proved they could work and succeed in every field of work.
Abrar Muhammad, a social worker at a charity organization, said some families still hold on to the idea that women should work only in a limited range of jobs.
“Some of our customs and traditions have forced women to enroll in a limited range of functions that are difficult to obtain, especially in these present circumstances.”
She referred to women working in public places that many parents reject under the pretext of mixing with men. “Women working in compliance with Islamic law by wearing Islamic attire is a very important issue for both the economics of the country at large and for females and their families,” said the social worker.


Seeds of hope: Refugee gardeners of Domiz inspire a Chelsea show-stopper

Syrian children relax in a Domiz garden
Updated 14 min 51 sec ago
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Seeds of hope: Refugee gardeners of Domiz inspire a Chelsea show-stopper

  • Syria is green, but here it was like a desert until we started growing plants and trees
  • “It’s really powerful, the human spirit and the will to thrive even in difficult situations”

LONDON: Main Avenue at the Chelsea Flower Show in London is ordinarily reserved for showpieces by Britain’s leading horticulturalists, but this year Syrian gardeners from the Domiz refugee camp in Iraq are the inspiration behind one of the most prominent displays.

Crowds clustering around the Lemon Tree Trust Garden this week were told that the space is designed to raise awareness about the reality of life in the camps, where despite the squalor and suffering, people still take pride in their surroundings.
“It’s really powerful, the human spirit and the will to thrive even in difficult situations,”
said the garden’s designer, Tom Massey.
Most of those living in Domiz, north of Mosul, are Syrians who have been arriving since 2012. Six years on, as temporary structures in Iraq’s largest refugee camp take on a more permanent form, hundreds of gardens have sprung up across the space. Some people have even sold their land in Syria and invested the money in their homes there.
“Gardening is a way to put down roots when people decide they are going to stay longer,” Massey explained.
He told Arab News that at first glance the sea of beige buildings crowded across a barren plain in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq resembled every other refugee camp in the region. But stepping out of the car at Domiz, near the Syrian and Turkish borders, he witnessed how plants were transforming the bleak surroundings.
“It’s incredibly hot and dusty, but as soon as you move into a garden space, you’re transported,” said Massey, who worked with gardeners in the camp to develop ideas for the showpiece.
The Lemon Tree Trust is a UK-based aid organization that has been working at refugee camps across northern Iraq for the past three years.
Massey, a former animator who retrained as a garden designer, was struck by the “resilience, determination, ingenuity and dedication” conveyed in each tiny green space he saw.
Pomegranate, rose and citrus trees flourish throughout the 710-square-mile Domiz camp and in other camps nearby, bringing bursts of color to the backdrop of canvas and concrete. Even a six-foot space between a door and a garden gate made from an old UN tent will have been used to plant flowers and grow vegetables in ingenious ways.
“You read stories about the resilience and strength of the human spirit in the camps, but
I didn’t expect the creativity that can flourish when people have so little,” said Alfonso Montiel, who also works with the Lemon Tree Trust.
In Aveen Ismael’s garden at Domiz, the back wall is adorned with old wellington boots painted and planted with flowers, while a closer inspection of her herbaceous border reveals old footballs refashioned as plant pots.
“Syria is green, but here it was like a desert until we started growing plants and trees,” she said. “Creating a garden was a way for us to heal and remind us of home.”
The 35-year-old, who was forced to flee Damascus in 2012, has become a local team leader for the Lemon Tree Trust, organizing gardening competitions and encouraging more residents to take part. Interest has grown from around 50 participants in 2016 to almost 1,000 entrants across the five refugee camps who were involved this year.
In the gardens across Domiz there is a sense of community that is akin to the sociable atmosphere on a London allotment, said Massey, who plans to create public outdoor gardens in the camp where people can come together and “share their passions.”
Montiel believes the draw of the gardens is down to the “need we all have to see beauty and be around nature.” At Domiz camp, he said “extreme beauty and extreme suffering exist side by side” in the generosity that people demonstrate despite their difficult situation.
For many, tending their gardens is a way of pushing back against the tedium of camp life. Everyone relates differently, whether it is a means of earning a living, easing
the boredom or an attempt to capture a semblance of home.
One woman Montiel met showed him pictures of the rose she tended in Syria, a cutting from which is now growing outside her house in Domiz. Other gardeners in the camp brought seeds when they fled, or asked friends and relatives to send a “piece of home.”
At the Chelsea Flower Show, horticulture enthusiasts described to Arab News the affinity they felt with the Syrian gardeners of Domiz.
“This kind of garden here tells a story about what this means to refugees and to people in London, and the experiences they have
to go through to grow their own,” said giant vegetable specialist Kevin Fortey.
The refined lines and ornamental elegance of the London showpiece puts a polish on the makeshift gardens that inspired it, but
the materials and arrangements displayed here reflect the creativity that thrives in the green spaces of Domiz.
Massey made use of concrete, timber and steel, materials frequently featured in the camps, which are “quite daring at the Chelsea Flower Show,” he said.
At the center of the display, a 50-year-old lemon tree showcases the origins of the project, while a wall-hung herb and vegetable garden represents the tin cans and halved plastic bottles used to grow food in the camp.
Surprisingly, most plants in Domiz are grown for ornamental purposes rather than to supplement limited food supplies. “It’s interesting that in a situation of absolute desperation, having lost everything, people pay attention to feeding the soul, in some cases more than the stomach,”
said Montiel.
It’s a detail he shared with Queen Elizabeth when she attended the Chelsea Flower Show on Monday, the first in a stream of dignitaries to tour the garden before it opened on Tuesday, including British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Unlike most guests, they were granted access to the sanctuary behind the barrier, where the clamour of the crowds gives way to the sound of water lapping over the sides of a star-shaped fountain as latticed wood screens shield the show from view.
There they were able to experience some of the solace and tranquility nature can offer people, even in times of war.