In Their Own Words, Saudi Women Reveal What It's Really Like Living Under The Regime

Social media has given Saudi women an unprecedented public voice.

In the wake of the release of its new documentary Ladies First, which dives into the 2015 Saudi elections, the New York Times tweeted out a request for women to share their experiences of living in Saudi Arabia. 2015 was the first year in which Saudi women were allowed to vote.

The publication received responses from nearly 6,000 women, all painting a fascinating picture about both the nation's history of oppression and how, in more recent years, some women have found opportunities to succeed.


There are approximately 14 million women living in Saudi Arabia, all of whom, regardless of age, require the permission of a male guardian to perform necessary tasks like traveling abroad or exiting prison. A guardian's permission is often also required for women to seek employment or access healthcare. These restrictions make women's successes in the country all the more remarkable.

Below, we've pulled together nine responses to the New York Times that particularly resonated with us. 

1. “I got into an accident once in a taxi, and the ambulance refused to take me to the hospital until my male guardian arrived. I had lost a lot of blood. If he didn’t arrive that minute, I would’ve been dead by now."

— RULAA, 19 years old, from Riyadh

2. “I left the home and sought refuge with a human rights organization in Saudi.

"I told them about my problems with my father, and they were not able to do anything, and they advised me to go to the police to demand protection from my father. When I went to the police, my father had already informed them that I fled his home. I told the police everything, and they said that I did something wrong/committed a horrible crime in leaving the home of my father, and they placed me in prison!

"The first three days I spent in solitary, then they transferred me to the general ward. There were women there who committed crimes like killing and stealing." — TYPICAL SAUDI GIRL, 23 years old, from Riyadh

3. “It’s like I’m in handcuffs. And the society, the law, the people [are] against us. That’s why most women choose to marry in their early 20s as a way to escape, and guess what? The man she marries is no different from her brother or father.”

 — BASHAYR, 19 years old, from Al-Hasa

4. “Saudi women have accomplished so much but do not advertise it. There is a long history of women that have worked tirelessly to help the society and build up the country.”

 — HAIFA, 28 years old, from New York and Riyadh

5. “I have lived for a while in the West. And I found that the life of a woman is very difficult, for she has to bear heavy burdens that only a man can undertake.

"Whereas in our country, the man provides all forms of comfort for the woman."

— AFNAN, 30 years old, from Riyadh

6. “I’m currently struggling with my father and trying to make him approve that I go to medical school. It’s my last year of high school, and I have no idea if he’s going to approve that or not. I have no idea what my future holds.

"My future is in this ignorant/sexist man's hands, and I can't do anything about it."

— ANONYMOUS, 18 years old, from Al-Qassim

7. “I am one of the lucky women who had an amazing and enlightened father and wonderful brothers, who do not interfere in my choices and support me all the way."

"Having said that, I get angry every time I travel and get asked by the passport official about my permit to travel. It just feels wrong that a middle-aged woman gets questioned every time to travel, while teenage boys are allowed to move in and out without question." 

— ABEER ABDUL HAMID, 50 years old, from London

8. “I have never felt in any way that there was something I wasn’t allowed to do."

"When you grow up in a society like Saudi Arabia, you get used to the rules and you work around them. Well, years ago, I had to take my father downtown with me to get my national ID issued. In the past few years, I have had to have that renewed, and I did not need to take my father with me this time. Things are changing. It's subtle, but it's there and it's tangible." 

— REEM SERAJ, 42-years-old, from Riyadh

9. "Women now are doctors, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, working with men and having a value, and this is all in the past seven years or so... We are advancing. We are moving forward. We just need patience and a chance.”

— L, 18-years-old, from Riyadh


(H/T: The New York Times)


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