Feminist Reader

Princess: Book about Saudi Princess

It all started with my reading of this book called Princess by Jean P. Sasson. This book is story of a Saudi Princess, who tells her story anonymously, through this American writer. We all have known that women do not have it easy in Saudi.

Saudi is rich but even princesses are shabbily treated by their fathers, husbands and brothers. The protagonist, Princess Sulatana, therefore, grows up with hatred for her brother. Other than the facts that a Saudi women is covered whenever she ventures out, she can’t drive, she can’t inherit, she has to have permission of her father/husband/brother to navigate outside, mere suspicion of sexual infidelity of a women can cause her to be stoned to death.

There are other chilly incidents of a Filipino maid who comes to country only to realise that her duties include sleeping with her male masters. As sexual activity and dates are inhibited, royal princes have been known to sleep with young girls (read children) in countries like Egypt. A girl is electrocuted by her father in swimming pool as she brought bad name to family by mingling with males. A young girl is stoned to death for committing a sexual crime but the truth was that she was raped by her brother’s friends. Brother did not take stand for her. Phew! There is more of stomach-crunching stuff (words/language in book are not gory, its the content that is sad) in the book if you care to catch up. You can read a balanced review here.

Girls in India

So I thanked that I am not in Saudi, but in India. But my feeling of thankfulness started evaporating when I read various news items related to woman.


First article was in Outlook magazine that I subscribe. I read an article about girls in Tamil Nadu. Girls aged 15-18 years are made to work on spindle (Tirupur Garment factory) in unhygienic conditions to earn their dowry! Gullible parents pack off their girls to work in these camps where they have poor food and accommodation conditions and they are poorly paid. This is women working in cage, called “camp coolie” system. You can read this saddening piece in detail here. (A registration may be required.)

Three months ago, an enticing flier flooded Tamil Nadu. It said, “Golden opportunities for working women—eighth, ninth and tenth class pass or failed. We provide food and accommodation. After three years, we pay Rs 70,000.

According to a TPF study, ‘Women Workers in a Cage,’ undertaken last June, these girls are paid Rs 34 per day for the first six months, with an increment of Rs 2 for every six months till they earn Rs 45 by the time the scheme comes to an end. Every month, Rs 450-550 is deducted for boarding and lodging.

According to Mercy, a coordinator with the NGO SAVE, these girls are almost like prisoners in their hostels, which are usually in the same compound as their workplace, and can only step outside the gates escorted by a warden. “Even interaction with parents is restricted to a specified day and for a limited time,” says Joseph Raj, Trust for Education and Social Transformation.

Don’t you dare suggest that desperate measures for dowry exist only in economically backward classes. Here is a post from Amit who relates a conversation about dowry within his well-off colleagues.

Infanticide and Foeticide

The dowry is one of the reasons why people indulge in foeticide and infanticide. I was reading with pride how things were changing in Punjab with crackdown on fertility centers. Oh no, if they can’t indulge in foeticide, they will manage with infanticide. I was crushed when I read this piece in Outlook. Excerpts:

December 27: Sushma gave birth to a healthy baby girl at a Bhatinda hospital. It was the couple’s third girl child. The next morning, the infant was found dead with blue marks around her nose and cheeks, leading to suspicions that she had been suffocated. The local police have registered a case.

December 19: The headless body of a three-day-old baby girl was found at Urban Estate in Jalandhar. Stray dogs had eaten much of her head and shoulders before passersby noticed and informed the police.

Rajasthan is not far behind in foeticide and infanticide, or how did its village end up without girls! According to this report, girls in Rajasthan are lucky to be alive.

Feelings of a Women

Reema’s writes another post about discrimination against girl child. I have had exact experiences as her, when she says:

Often I meet people who ask me about my family and when I say we are two sisters, their next question is invariably the same, asked in the same sympathetic tone with the same pitiful expression “No brothers?” I answer politely “no” but in my mind I’m like “Didn’t you hear? I said 2 sisters. Obviously that means no brothers, moron”. But I’m kind of losing my patience with such people. So next person who asks me that is in lot of trouble. And frankly speaking I think a sister is the best sibling one could have.

Even modern women are perpetually scared of how they are going to manage double workload, how will things fare for her in-law’s household. Nita writes in her post how there are finishing schools for women, but what about teaching men how to keep their wives happy? It is important and need of the hour. Don’t we women have feelings? Reema too has lamented about a colleague uncaring of his pregnant wife’s needs. I admire Amol Palekar now for making Paheli. I was watching yesterday and thought it raised an apt question. A traditional village wife, Rani, chooses other man (spirit) over her husband. Her husband has everything: looks, money and good family. He is busy business man and his father’s obedient son but uncaring of emotional needs of his wife. I would say it was subtle and bold portrayal of a woman making a choice.

And finally, did any one think of inculcating family values to contribute in household chores. Role definitions have changed, so why is it only women managing household chores alone. One of my friend says she and her husband arrive home at same time after work. While her ma-in-law brings sherbet for husband, she is expected to slog in kitchen and wake up early next day! Her hubby is free to hog sports channels on his couch. Where is her life? Why can’t we teach our kids and family to be self-reliant and spouse to pitch in household chores. I will leave you with a peek into an Indian woman’s life in this story by Sakhi.

I do not think I have resolved any issues by writing about it. But I am hoping that some men would read it and try to be considerate to women in their lives. For that purpose alone, I would tirelessly write more. Having said that, all is not bad in India. I am proud to be a woman in India. I have been lucky to savour the best, with best of family.

36 Responses to “Feminist Reader”

  1. 1 Shefaly July 2, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    @ Poonam:

    Change comes but one person as a time. You are one of those persons who is keen on change and tries to influence. I read especially your issue-based posts because of this one reason.

    And yes, these headlines and events reveal to us how lucky we have been with liberal families who kept us as foetuses as the very first choice.

  2. 2 Daniel July 2, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    Have you read Ayaan Hirsi Magan’s book? She has a stunning take on the treatment of women in another culture. Not only was it authentic and informative, it was also a reminder that things are worse than I thought in some places. http://www.bentpage.wordpress.com.

  3. 3 kpowerinfinity July 2, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    The only solace is that things are getting better!

    Or are they?

  4. 4 dinu July 2, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    Leave Saudi … its bad for even men .. or rather, anyone whois no a “Saudi” .. my father has been living there for past 16+ years .. even small kids throw stones at you shouting “Hindi Hindi” For a better job, you are asked to change religion … children treating you like slaves …….. these are just personal experiences of my father, and he tells, I will never let you come here, even if you get a job that pays Lakhs

    If this is the case with Men there, guess what happens with a girl and can’t even imagine the state of women from other countries working there

    I read Amit’s post and was really shocked to see the fact that Dowry is taking new avatars, as laptops, gold, shares,

    Really Good post Poonam 🙂

  5. 5 Rupa July 2, 2008 at 5:55 pm

    Yet another interesting post by you 🙂

    I guess the change is happening slowly. Yet things have changed completely.

    The woman is still responsible for most of the household work, never matter if she works late in the office or is a housewife.

    I do most of the work at home. But I do it happily because it is just me and my hubby and my hubby is much more busier than me ;)Even then he makes his dinner most of the days 🙂 I do not strain myself like mad to do household work.

    If a woman does things out of ur own will and it is not a pain for her then it is fine i guess. If it gets tough of course ppl close to her need to understand and help.

    I know how difficult it is if there are more people at home and u have manage both home and work.

    Hope men share work with women at a larger scale.

    Thanks for voicing this out.

  6. 6 sakhi July 2, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    @ poonam

    This is an awesome post adn i am doubly happy that you have linked me 😀 :D, hurray!

    @ dinu,

    i too have lived in Riyadh for quite some years and my mom ws there for almost 12 years.. we never faced these problems or probably i was too young for that.. But yes the life is bad there if you are a saudi woman.. a lot of restrictions and other things that you have mentioned

  7. 7 harshasrisri July 2, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    The scenario needs the blame. No doubt. It needs time to reform a world populated more by men. I could understand what pain you felt, else this post wouldn’t have been so good!
    Fighting this phenomenon is tougher than fighting terrorism coz the latter needs evil to be taken out of planet, while the former needs evil be taken out of people’s head. And won’t you agree with me that mind is a battlefield, tougher than the real world?
    Anyway, be comforted. There is a considerable change from past decade(s) to the present.

  8. 8 Nita July 2, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Wonderful post Poonam! I like that way you have compared situations in different countries. Women have a hard time in places like Saudi and most of the time it’s all hidden. A few stories come out. In India at least it’s all open and the media reports and even highlights such incidents. And we bloggers are free too!We can raise our voices!
    And we are the privileged lot in India. I thank God for giving me this privilege and this opportunity.

  9. 9 Reema July 2, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    1st of all thanks for linking me 🙂
    Why is it that during a marriage proposal all the homely qualities of a girl are only asked? and in case of the guy, everyone just looks at the salary and general family. sometimes looks are even compromised upon in case of v high salary.Why arent such qualities demanded which would make them good husbands & good fathers? Why arent they asked if they know cooking? If some guys are helpful and considerate towards their wives its because they have been brought up in that way and have seen it in their parents. The need is to make our sons more emotionally intelligent. Like when a mom goes to cook should ask her son to help her peel vegetables from his childhood. That way he doesnt grow up to think cooking is solely his wife’s duty and willingly volunteers to help her or even cook once in a while.

  10. 10 Jean Sasson July 2, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    This is Jean Sasson, the author of the PRINCESS books… I must say that I find this a a wonderful and informative site — my congratulations — as far as I am concerned until we women stick together and help each other, nothing will change. I have been shocked and saddened by the way it is in much of the world — many women take up for the men in the hopes they will get better treatment, even if they “sacrifice” their “sisters” in the process. When I read such thoughts and ideas from young women, I feel renewed hope that the world will indeed become a better place for females. The most important thing is for all women to become educated — education is followed by freedom of thought and the ability to become financially independent — the daughters of such a person will have a much better chance. Anyhow, I could talk forever but can’t due to time-constraints on this day. I send good wishes to each and every one of you — Warm regards and best wishes, Jean Sasson

  11. 11 Amit July 2, 2008 at 10:05 pm

    Thanks for linking me. 🙂
    I really liked this post. There are so many things happening in the world which are beyond our imagination. I guess that is why books like The Kite Runner shake us to the core. I think Princess is also such a book. Its more real I guess as it is based on real life incidences.
    The Dowry incidence in my friend’s office was one of the most shocking incidences of my life. It was as if someone has splashed hot boiling water on my face. I wonder if “Education” and “Financial Independence” have any meaning?

  12. 12 lallopallo July 3, 2008 at 3:13 am

    Good post, but isnt that all men who will read your post are already considerate to women in their lives and ones who are not, wont probably read your post?. Or will they? Hope they do…

  13. 13 praneshachar July 3, 2008 at 5:00 am

    it is true even today there are certain issues which keeps us thinking. coming to the point I am of the opinion each one in family has to take clue and do what is expected to give some relief to the women the house be it be mother or wife. there are lot of instances where ladies don’t allow their husbands to do anything that is not correct they have to come out of this and say yah! i have also come after a hectic day so if both shares we can have some free time to talk or go out. on the other hand there are men who think house hold chores are their domain they can easily relax while his better half will toil we must understand that to succeed in family life both should contribute. this is very important.
    basically I am of the firm opinion is the mindset for this is the key where there is a will there is way. openness is the key and both should understand that in todays world no job is exclusively for either sex. some natural things are already there where the joy of
    motherhood raring a baby is exclusive pleasure of women that is god given gift to them
    times have changed so also people. today support from the children is very less for mother so it is her better half who should do his best and give some relief. children of these days have a different attitude ( not all there are lot who are caring for parents and family) who care less for family without understanding family that will stood by them in their hour of crisis. the adolescent age will take them out and they don’t realize the importance of mother father siblings and when they are deserted by their so called friend or life then only they come to reality and understand the importance of parents.
    in this context the imbibing the values ethics and our great culture and heritage has to be done in some form or the other in school or community. people from all around the world are coming to learn our culture but we are forgetting and following western
    culture. unfortunately today lot of gurus are their to teach these who are commercial in their approach and some will exploit the innocence to their advantage. any how comment become lengthy bear with me and I am trying to convey me views certainly the girl, women needs to be respected.
    she inclueds he women includes men women are given a great place in our country from the ages she can be mother, sister, wife or any one who is close to you and our elders have given the country status of mother mother never hates their children alway she is there for help in their hour of need,
    happy day for women more and more education will bring this awareness and certainly we must be happy we are in india where we have got lot of freedom this freedom needs to carefully used for good of self family and of course the motherland. if freedom is misused then it will be disaster

  14. 14 Withering Willow July 3, 2008 at 9:46 am

    great post! 😀

    You have woven so many burning topics into one post. My heart fills with extreme rage when i think about all these ill-practices. I wish we could have strict laws to protect females and a speedy judiciary system to punish the guilty. May be fear of severe punishment would make people think twice before committing any heinous crime.

  15. 15 Poonam Sharma July 3, 2008 at 10:19 am

    @Shefaly: True, change comes slowly. Like you, I feel privileged for something that is my right. I am glad to know you like to read issue-based posts, because they usually score less in readership than others.

    @Daniel: I hadn’t but after you commented, I googled about her. I will try to find her book Infidel.

    @kpowerinfinity: I hope they are getting better. I am a optimist.

    @Dinu: Thanks for sharing your personal experience. I have heard others from Saudi complaining that you have to convert for better jobs, and even that does not bring respect. I hope you make it big here in our country and never have to go anywhere else.

    Amit’s post was shocking and shamed to core about the “urban” society.

    @Rupa: Thanks Rupa, you found it worthwhile. And you read such a lengthy post till end! I am glad to know you have a nice hubby. And also glad that I am not gainst woman taking care of work and home, only chagrined that other members of family do not feel the need to change. 🙂

    @Sakhi: I had to link because your story was realistic something that appealed to other women.

    In Jean Sasson’s book, there is a story where they throw paint on foreign women who was wearing a skirt in public. So I thought, maybe its not nice for other women too. I am glad you did not have any unpleasant experience. Perhaps it was improved then, no idea!

    @harshasrisri: Welcome to Visceral Observations!

    yes, we need reform in mindset. Yes, in a way mind has become a battlefield. Yes, I deeply feel for the issue. Women’s feelings are still ignored even if she survives infanticide or child marriage. That hurts!

    @Nita: I had not meant to compare though. 🙂 but the comparison was inevitable. I am so glad Nita that we live in free world. And so glad Nita, that you wrote about feelings of woman on your blog. Its something worth talking about, it concerns all of us.

    @Reema: You have hit the nail on head. We have to bring up our sons to be emotionally intelligent. It has lot to do with upbringing of men in society. For that, women too need to change their mindset, and change the way kids are brought up. Girl or boy, we must teach them to be self-reliant.

    @Jean Sasson: Welcome! 🙂 Glad that you took out time to comment here. Yes, women need to stick together, that’s something we need to learn.

    Now that you are here, Jean. I wanted to know how did you verify the facts stated in Sultana’s diary? Without revealing too much, how did ya meet her and she convince you to write? I mean was it on one of her trips abroad? I am very curious.

    @Amit: yeah, that is why I was shocked. These were educated guys talking! Yes, like Princess, Hosseini’s both books shook us to core. I found Thousand Splendid Suns for this one reason. There are scenes of Rashid taht play in mind and disrupt my peace. I would not repeat them here or it may be restless for you too.

    @lallopallo: Not necessarily every blogger, every educated guy is considerate. Nothing can be taken for granted.I am an optimist. I am hoping few of the guys who read, would feel the pain and reconsider.

    @praneshachar: A very long comment indeed, and very heart-felt. Yes, women need to change to. To prove your point, I will tell you what I saw in Ramayan (on NDTV Imagine), Ram asked Sita if she was tired. Sita conceded that. Ram offered to press her legs. Sita is horrified and goes down on her knees to press Ram’s feet saying it was her kartavya But Ram insisted on pressing her feet whenever she was tired! So the makes had instigated a small change, I am not sure if such a prose is there in real Ramayana.

    @Withering Willow: Glad you liked it! 🙂 For issues like foeticide, infanticide, dowry deaths, we have punishments. But what about things like not sharing responsibility with women, uncaring of her feelings, gender stereotypes? These have to be fought with mindset by both men and women, can’t think of a legal punishment that would undo it.

  16. 16 dinu July 3, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Is this really “feminist” isn’t this actually, HUMANIST ( if there is such a word 😉 if not lets create one )

  17. 17 Poonam Sharma July 3, 2008 at 10:23 am

    @Dinu: You are right, it is actually “Humanist”. Other bloggers have also been heard coining this term. I didn’t put this in title for I thought people might miss it.

  18. 18 Xylene July 3, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Its frightening to hear and read such news on media. I wonder how ppl will have the heart to kill their own blood. I feel that at least in India it would change atleast with this generation.

  19. 19 Liju Philip July 3, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    Have you read the book “Inside the Kingdom” by Carmen bin Laden? Pretty similar to this book, but it was written by Osama bin Laden’s sister-in-law.

  20. 20 RJ July 4, 2008 at 6:42 am

    @Poo – Nice Post! Electric! But Feminist Reader????!!! I would have liked to see Humanist 🙂

  21. 21 Nita July 4, 2008 at 8:02 am

    I wanted to write about the Feminist Humanist thing too but didn’t want to divert from the main topic. But now that others have brought it up let me also nod in agreement. This is not feminism. This is about human rights.

  22. 22 Poonam Sharma July 4, 2008 at 11:44 am

    @Xylene: I have not yet written about child marriage in this post. There were scary stories from Rajasthan that can actually compared with practice in Saudi. I am an optimist taht thinks will change with our generation.

    @Liju: I haven’t but I have noted the book, will check out. It has interesting credentials. Author is SIL of propogator of most backward Taliban!

    @RJ and Nita: Agreed 100%. It is about human rights, I used feminist only because most of it related to women. Or should it be Feminine Reader 😛

  23. 23 Quirky Indian July 4, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    I know a girl who used to live with her parents in Saudi. She and her sister – 10 and 13 – were actually picked up by the cops because they happened to step out into the street from their home by themselves. Their dad had to do quite a bit of pleading to get them released, and my friend says their age worked in their favour.

    But I guess changes will take place.

    Quirky Indian

  24. 24 Poonam Sharma July 4, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    @Quirky Indian: After reading that I can safely say that it was their age that saved them. Did you read last section about feelings of Indain woman, it is utmost important section of this post. 😉

  25. 25 Jean Sasson July 16, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    Hi, This is Jean Sasson again…

    I verfiied her story easily: First of all, I lived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia for 12 years, and saw similar outrages against women frequently — whether it was in the hospital where I worked where wives were abandoned by their husbands IF the wife was too ill to bear more children, etc. Or, just in the routine of life one would see things that were so shocking you couldn’t believe your own eyes. I met the princess in 1985, and we slowly became close friends. I didn’t leave the kingdom for good until 1991, and we have remained friends throughout all these years — now I am friends with two of her children… Also, I personally met some of the people that are featured in the book and heard personal verfication from them. It was clear to me that the princess was not a liar, any more than my more recent heroines, MAYADA, DAUGHTER OF IRAQ, and LOVE IN A TORN LAND: Joanna of Kurdistan… When any writer tells the story of someone they have met or interviewed there has to be trust. I’ve turned down a number of writing projects when I felt the story just didn’t “feel right.” However, with my princess, I’ve known her now for over 20 years and found her to be extremely trustworthy. Hope this answers your question. For now, have a good day and keep reading! All the best, Jean Sasson

    Poonam: Yeah, I thought that you had to be living in Saudi to take up such a story with passion and courage. Were you a nurse by profession? Thanks for coming by again!

  26. 26 Nimmy October 8, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    Great post..Read till last line with lot of passion 🙂

    Well,you are not being a feminist,but juts a humanist.Saudi has too rigid rules and people mistake it for islamic tradition and thus make sweeping generalizations…Saudi is the last choice of country i’ld like to live in..Rest of Arab nations are very fine ones,i have lived in few of them..

    Good day

  27. 27 Poonam Sharma October 17, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    @Nimmy: Thanks for understanding! Yes, I was trying to convey humanism.

    Which countries in Middle East have you lived in?

  28. 28 Nimmy October 17, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    I have lived on UAE-dubai,Bahrain and now in Qatar..

  29. 29 "Smart White Woman" November 30, 2008 at 12:22 pm

    Comment from America,
    Have absolutely no respect or admiration for men fom Saudi, their behavior towards women is despicable and uncomprehensible to me. The men are poor, disgusting, week, insecure pigs who need to keep women repressed in order to make themselves feel like “men”.

  30. 30 Indian Homemaker June 2, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    I am reading this post today! I have also seen women in situations like your friend – they come home and have to enter the kitchen while their husbands relax in front of the TV. They are told they are being ‘allowed’ to work but they ‘should not misuse this ‘freedom’ to neglect their primary duties’ because, ‘equality also has limits’.

    And I loved Jean Sasson’s book, and blogged about it too.

    I too loved Paheli and I agree letting her choose someone other than her husband was very bold and a lot of people criticised the movie for showing an Indian woman doing something she never would. I thought the movie gave the Indian women a good idea or some sound advice.

    • 31 Poonam Sharma June 5, 2010 at 9:49 am

      Glad, you read it. It was one of my most impassioned posts of the time. I still wonder why people missed the message in Paheli and why they put with with hypocrisy like having to take permission to work and then work more at home. Sad affairs.

  31. 32 Aisha November 22, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    You cannot put all the things Saudi law or Kings or Princes or even men do as ‘Islamic’
    Women get inheritance in Islam, yet some people don’t practice it.
    Which is really sad, women of all religions should be treated properly, men should respect women.

    As for the living in Saudi issue, my husband is there at the moment, and he’s in love with Saudi.
    There are bad things of course like the recent Indonesian maid beating which is very sad and I hope people like that GET punished…But not everyone is like that.

    I’ll plan to find this book and read it, as I enjoy reading both sides of the story.

    As a convert to Islam I have two experiences
    Life as a Non muslim, and life as a Muslim
    And so far in my 6yrs of embracing Islam I’ve had more respect from people , especially men…but sadly not everyone would go through what I experience

  1. 1 Woman in Saudi vs women in India at Blogbharti Trackback on July 2, 2008 at 11:15 pm
  2. 2 In Line... · Girls in India Trackback on July 7, 2008 at 10:12 am
  3. 3 Book Review: Known Turf by Annie Zaidi « Visceral Observations Trackback on May 24, 2010 at 3:19 am

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