Once again feeling snubbed
These initiatives take Saudi Arabia on the right path toward providing better services to its citizens. But there is an underlying attitude from the government that leads one to believe we still have ways to go before we become an all-inclusive society.
Ministry spokesman Muhammad Al-Zumai announced one project this week that will give Saudi citizens financial support for housing. That support will come in the form of accommodations, land or a loan. The other project has the government building 500,000 low-cost housing units at a cost of SR 250 billion. This is aimed at reducing property prices and rents.
The requirements for the houses, land and home loans are rather stringent: Applicants must be a man and wife, with or without children, a single father, a single Saudi mother who is widowed or divorced, or a non-Saudi mother with children from a Saudi father. Qualifying applicants must be a man 25 years or older with none of his family members already owning a home or owning one in the past five years. The mother of children may apply if there is no father.
Other social and financial conditions also apply. However, absent from the pool of qualified applicants are Saudi wives of foreigners. It’s the same issue that comes up every time the government implements a new program. Saudi women who choose to marry a non-Saudi are left out of social programs. Non-Saudi wives divorced or widowed from a Saudi man have gained more advantages by virtue of having a Saudi man as a husband, while the reverse doesn’t hold for Saudi women.
Although a ministry official said in a television interview the other day that Saudi wives of foreigners will benefit from the housing program, there appears no provision in the language of requirements published in the Arabic press. And that is what counts, not verbal promises.
Perhaps the most significant trend in Saudi Arabia today is that young Saudi women under the age of 30 are becoming the most educated demographic in Saudi society. This has resulted in demands from these young women for well-paying and challenging jobs to match their university degrees. But the unintended consequences of having an educated female population are twofold: One, Saudi university graduates are reluctant in returning to a society that tacitly endorses institutionalized discrimination against women. Two, the pool of potential marriage candidates is far deeper than the previous generation of females as young women now consider non-Saudis as potential husbands. Why? Non-Saudi men are not constrained by the shackles of customs and traditions that some Saudi men are only too happy to enforce.
This is not a condemnation of Saudi men, but the reality of the emerging woman from the kitchen and nursery. She knows she can provide for her husband, have children, and still have the opportunity for a career and travel if she chooses.
The Saudi government — and this is true with all governments — is slow on the uptake of this new trend. And as a result reinforces the discriminatory practices of the country’s ministries.
While much has been made of the argument that Saudi society will change when it’s ready to change, we have discovered that discrimination against women is entrenched in the very institutions that are supposed to protect women. One needs to look no further than the campaign by municipal police departments that staged crackdowns on women driving last year. It’s not Saudi society that is holding women back, but some authorities as evidenced in this latest effort to exclude Saudi wives of foreign men of getting financial aid for housing.
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