Life Of Expat Women In Riyadh, Housewives VS Working Women: Choice Or Coercion

Some of the Saudi husbands prefer that their wives do not work and remain in the home. Others allow their wives to work but require that it be in an Islamic environment. Yet others don’t care if she works or stays home, as long as the house is clean and he is well fed. This is something that all non-Saudi women should know about their potential Saudi spouse, whether he cares about you working or not. Should you move to Saudi Arabia and he doesn’t mind you working, you will be challenged with finding a job that fits you, your degree and/or experience. And if he’s one of those who want you to stay home…well…Saudi Arabia is the place where you will be forced to stay home whether you like it or not by various situations on many occasions. Unless you are the kind of women who takes the bulls by the horn and braves walking the streets, riding in the taxis or is blessed with a personal driver. 

Mrs. Khan’s articles is the truth and reality of life for women here in Riyadh and throughout Saudi Arabia: having to choose between staying at home or going to work. I myself found similarities of my own life in the stories of the women she interviewed. I’m one of those women with a university degree and work history since I was 16 who chose not to work and stay home to take care of my family/household. I have no maid and no driver. I’ve thought about working just to get out of the house but the only available jobs for English speaking people seem to be as a teacher and I do not feel qualified to be a teacher. For the moment, there is no need for me to work alhamdulillah. My family and my house are my work masha’Allah. 

Thanks to Mrs. Khan for sharing this article with me and giving permission for it to be published on FHWS. Tara Umm Omar

Life Of Expat Women In Riyadh, Housewives VS Working Women: Choice Or Coercion

By Mrs. Noor Asad Khan


The population of Saudi Arabia is over 4 million out of which at least 27% of the population consists of expatriates from all over the world, the majority being from the Indian subcontinent. Life of women in Riyadh is not as bad as women from abroad perceive it to be, it is one of the most luxurious cities to live in, but yes women are bound by Religious and Moralistic values here unlike in any other country. The only country in the world to do so. But there are pros and cons to everything in this world. Women are not allowed to move around as freely as in other countries; Women are not allowed to drive which steals an integral part of their independence in the country.

Most of the Expat women in the country are a mix of housewives, some are professionals like doctors and nurses and some freelance. There does exist marginalisation of women in the workforce in Riyadh and this is not just an expatriate woman’s problem but it is any woman’s problem in Saudi due to the conservative attitude of the Saudi society. There are many highly qualified expatriate and local women in the country who inspite of being an asset to the Economy of the country can do nothing about it but sit at home. To some women it might not be a big issue because they are financially well off and do not have to worry about their financial expenses and savings but for Expatriates money and saving it is the real issue. Due to the latest financial and credit crunch in the world women also want to work so as to save for the future of their children. Men are feeling a pinch in their pockets and women want to help out but they cannot because there are too many hurdles to cross through to get a good and proper rewarding job in the country. If a woman is offered the same job as man’s she will be offered a minimum basic wage without any benefits and compensations which are offered to their male counterparts.Why?I have no idea.

There are a sectors of expat women who are housewives by choice and some, well they have no choice but to stay at home,Mrs N. Khan is one of them, an Indian mother of 2 a Post Graduate and a Professional before she moved to Riyadh says she is a housewife not by choice “I come from the travel and tourism industry in which I have worked for over 5 years, in Riyadh it seems I could not apply for a job in the same field here because it is a mostly a male dominated profession and men and women do not work side by side, as an alternative I did apply for a job in a reputed school as a teacher and I was sent an email back saying that I wasn’t a native English speaker hence my application wouldn’t be considered. At the same time I applied for jobs in some other companies to secure a professional post and I was denied an opportunity for an Interview saying that I wasn’t an Arab or a Saudi and that the post was reserved for Arabs and Arabic Speakers. So Being a Woman isn’t the only drawback in a country like Saudi Arabia but being a Non Arab and Not a Westerner is also one. I did work before moving to Riyadh as a professional and did get monetary worth for my education and experience. I have 2 beautiful children to take care of I certainly don’t mind staying at home but it might help if I get a chance to pitch in and help my husband to run the household and not be a burden on him for everything literally. I feel as if I am getting kind of rustic by staying at home throughout the week and doing only household chores.”

The life of expatriate women in Riyadh especially housewives is sleeping that is what all of them do over here.”We sleep during most of the day then be up late during the night time this is the general lifestyle over here “says Mrs Baig a Pakistani housewife who has been residing in Riyadh for more than 8 years now “What else are we supposed to do? We cannot go out on our own especially during the school summer or winter breaks, my husband is at work till late in the evening and I’m not that privileged enough to have a driver and an extra car at home, that I can take the children to a mall or a play park or the zoo etc. How much house work and cooking would be there to complete within 24 hours of the day??So sleeping is good a time pass besides watching tv.I feel sorry for the children though, since we stay in an apartment, the children cannot go out and play & socialise with other children they have become addicted to video games and play stations, perhaps if we were staying in a compound then the children would enjoy themselves playing with other kids.”

On the contrary there are some women are housewives by choice, Mrs Brittany Qassem, an American housewife married to an Arab who is a mother of 5 and says, “I am not that interested in working as my first prority is taking care of my family, but yes I would like to be able move around on my own like go for grocery shopping on my own,take my children to school without being dependent on anybody else. “when asked about there are other ways to get the same work done this is what she had to say,”I do not believe in hiring drivers and getting home deliveries of groceries, it is much more riskier and dangerous than going out on my own as we show them the a way into our homes which I do not consider safe at all, sitting at home is much better than sitting with a stranger in my own car”,

So is Mrs Suhaily Solastro, a housewife by choice, i.e, a Singaporean, Double Postgraduate and an Educator by Profession who has been staying in Riyadh with her son and husband for quite some time “Unfortunately the coveted title of housewife is a choice that I make. Husband being placed in Saudi makes it an all easier choice. Perhaps physically I do feel slightly decapitated (and I be lying if I don’t agree) whenever he is away, having to deal with gardener and driver to get things moving around the house. Being dependent on him for communication, transportation & administration would never be so if I’m in another country. “Says Mrs Solastro,”However for my own self worth, I have achieved half of my wish-list which would not have been possible if I had maintained my past profession. What you choose to be, to be self-worthy, to be a better person and in turn wife & mother is a choice you can make and not determined by being in Saudi.”

There are a few successful Expat professional women in Riyadh who dabble between home and work very effectively, like Mrs Zareen Ilyas a mother of 3, she works as a freelancing interior designer and has done some stunning work in her field – her current projects are going on at Hayat Mall and Olaya Street, she has a very different point of view for the city of Riyadh and says, “Riyadh has never been a jail for me, I have been able to do whatever I want right from the start. I moved here in 1996 from Ireland with my husband and a 6 month old Son, I had offers then as well for 2-3 opportunities to work but I had to refuse because taking care of My child was the first priority at that time but then may as luck had it I got more lucrative offers and I was on the roll. I currently work for Sheffield School of Arts affiliated through USA, my work hours are flexible, I handle independent projects from time to time whenever I am free and I can spend more time with my family at the same time.I am quite independent monetarily and socially. “on being asked if the gender difference affect her, she refuses and says, “I feel more comfortable and at ease working in segregation, it gives me a sense of freedom and I feel more relaxed .I have never felt my gender being a drawback especially in my field of work.”

From psychology point of view, all the staying at home and not venturing out or being out on their own can give women and children alike a problem in Self Esteem. As per researches conducted it has shown that there is a direct correlation between self esteem and social acceptance as well as self esteem and self awareness. Women who in the role of mothers act as the first teachers for any child would benefit greatly if they have strong self esteem. Being dependent on the other gender for a great majority of activities renders their self esteem to be some what compromised.

According to Ms. Saman Sadiq a psychiatric social worker,”Im my opinion, mobility of women matters, “she says “A women’s overall performance is affected due the constraints placed on her. Women need to be mobile in their time of need like looking after their children getting them where they need to go and be with them to protect them. If women have more power in time of their needs it would motivate their self esteem, better their social behaviour. It would also help with raising and nurturing their children well. Children tend to be dependent on parents for everything as well and learn very less when it comes to independence, nowadays as we see it in society, it is a very common problems mothers are facing, child obesity, lack of socializing, isolation, addicted to video games and play stations and many such problems are rampant. Among expats being a housewife and looking after family is by choice for some women and working and looking after their family is also a choice, but it should be a choice rather than being coerced to be either, society should be flexible.

Women are an integral part of any society in the world. In a country like Saudi Arabia Women will have to conquer a lot more than just becoming primary citizens along with their male counterparts, especially expat women, they will have overcome barriers of language and race in order to get a thriving career and the monetary benefit for their education, knowledge and is truly based on their ability to do so and not for their nationality, gender or language.

All we can hope is that the social arena changes in the years to come. More qualified Expat Women would have a choice to be a working mother or a home maker not be coerced to be the latter.


Saudi Society Blamed For Rising Unemployment Among Women



Published by

Tara Umm Omar

American married to a Saudi.

3 thoughts on “Life Of Expat Women In Riyadh, Housewives VS Working Women: Choice Or Coercion”

  1. Nice article.Just want to point out this problem is not exclusive to expat females. Saudi females too suffer from unemployment. A recent study revealed that 28.4 percent of Saudi females are jobless (most of them are university degree holder). Job situation here are tough for all women.


  2. Hello Noor You are absolutely right……but this article is written on my own expereinces and oher expats in the similar situation….no offence meant to our saudi counterparts….I am sure Saudi women also face the same situation.


A penny for your thoughts...

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s