Many Saudi women becoming sole breadwinners
Many assume that women who are obliged to financially support their families are either divorcees, widows or single.
Yet many married women are increasingly forced to fend for their families simply because their spouses do not provide for them, either because they are ill, unemployed or just plain irresponsible.
This leaves many women with no choice but to work to keep their families out of poverty and destitution.
Ali Zaari, a consultant psychiatrist in Jeddah, reiterated the importance of men and women cooperating when trying to make ends meet in an increasingly expensive world.
“Such sacrifices made by women, who are also tasked with raising their children, are only healthy if they are complemented with support from their husbands,” he said. “Many men, however, take advantage of this situation to sit back and relax while the women slave away, placing great psychological and physical pressure on these working mothers, who end up feeling a great sense of frustration and injustice.”
No society should accept spousal negligence, said Zaari. “There should be a social law criminalizing such forms of exploitation.”
“We increasingly see men going off to buy cars and travel with their wives’ money, abandoning their obligations as husbands and fathers,” he said.
“We must raise awareness among women about their rights in order to ensure a quality family life and curb divorce rates.”
“Saudi women, like other women in the world, are capable of jointly supporting their households,” said Mona Brik, secretary-general of a prominent women’s charity association.
“The association supports these women through offering them multiple training and education programs. Princess Nora bint Mohammad, the association’s president, is keen on training women in Asir to work in both the bread and beauty industries and to teach them how to sew traditional local clothing, in addition to acquiring English and IT skills. Such skills are essential in helping these women feel more empowered to take on large-scale responsibilities.”
Khaled Jelban, professor of family and community medicine at King Khaled University, said that the stereotypes surrounding Saudi women in the media are false.
Saudi women are portrayed as being spoiled, dependent and a burden on society, when in fact, Saudi women take on a number of responsibilities just like their male counterparts, said Jelban.
“Women are increasingly becoming breadwinners due to economic circumstances that have made it imperative for them to stand by their spouses and provide support for their families.”
Umm Saeed Al-Qahtani, a shop owner at Abha’s Tuesday market, said that the market has more than 100 stores managed by women, especially widows, divorcees and women who are supporting families or husbands who are unable to work.
“Many women, however, are incurring debt because of their inability to repay rent,” she said.
“I, for instance, have run up a SR50,000 debt from having to rent out my shop since the ripe age of 20.”
Like many other widows, Umm Saeed supports her family by working at the market and has appealed to the Asir Municipality to cancel rental of these shops in order to help these women make ends meet.
Umm Shaker, Asir’s most well-known cook, described her experience of having to support a large family of 21 children and grandchildren.
“My daughters and I work together as cooks in order to increase our income,” she said. “I was able to keep my family from suffering the perils of poverty through my participation in a program for productive families.”
Sabah Zahar, a social worker in Asir, said several factors account for the prevalence of women becoming breadwinners.
“Changes in social structure within both Saudi and Arab society at large, coupled with the entry of women into the labor and specialization fields, has led to women playing a pivotal role in economic and family development,” she said. “Nevertheless, women suffer huge social burdens, such as being left by their husbands to fend for their families, and this is unacceptable.
This is why it is imperative that we educate women about their rights and duties.”