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Shortly after arriving in Saudi Arabia, andwhen attending a Riyadh Chamber of Commerce meeting, not only was I, the lone woman in the room, swiftly guided to a seat by a Saudi official alongside the American contingency of businessmen, but I was encouraged by another Saudi representative to launch the session by disclosing my initial impressions of Saudi Arabia.
After divulging my views, which were direct, from the heart, and included an acknowledgement of several gracious Saudi gentlemen who in the early days of our trip aided my efforts in trying to find a job in the Kingdom, I received an ovation by the Saudi delegates.
It was of utmost importance, however, to balance work life with family life, and women who had small children at home were given the opportunity to work part-time.
The importance of family, and more generally, fellowship, regularly impacted work life at the hospital.
The media and others had led me to believe that women were second-class citizens, suppressed by men, discouraged to express their views.
What I found, instead, from the first few days of our time in Saudi Arabia in February 2000, through to visits of other Gulf countries andmy eventual relocation to Qatar in 2004, where I presently reside, is that men of the Gulf region are predisposed to view, and treat, women, particularly in professional and business settings, as “sisters.” particularly in Saudi Arabia.
Fascinated by, yet somewhat wary, myself, of, the images of long black abayas, white thobes, and bustling marketplaces in this distant land, I was determined to find out why my western compatriots and Iwere so puzzled by, and, circumspect about, this Gulf nation.
Saudi women were quite vocal about issues regarding their children’s schooling, where they could buy the freshest food, and how best to maintain happy and flourishing households.