Women in Saudi Arabia
In Saudi Arabia, these are very well valid concerns and in many instances restrictions can be frustrating, irritating and cause feelings of helplessness and homesickness.
Women cannot drive (except on a Western compound) and women are required to wear the abaya when outside the compound; however, non-Muslim women are not required to cover their face or hair.
Furthermore, trailing spouses who worked prior to arriving in Saudi Arabia, may find the ebb and flow of routine suddenly replaced with long hours of boredom. In the patriarchal structure of the Saudi society, it is more often than not the woman who must remain at home and battle with a loss of meaning.
Sometimes, there’s a lack of understanding and empathy from the working partner. It’s easier for him to transition since he’s preoccupied with the workplace. From his point of view it’s easy because she gets to stay home. How long one will experience these feelings depends on the individual.
These elements of culture shock can be daunting, but despite the difficulties of coping, many women like living in Saudi Arabia; and for the most part, it’s safe.
Women will find that living on large company-sponsored compounds can make life much easier and far more enjoyable than if they were residing in town in an individual apartment or villa.
On a compound it’s generally easier to meet people. It will not take long before the expat wife will find herself with a bunch of new friends and acquaintances.
For the most part, people wear what they like. These compounds have everything on-site such as restaurants, bowling alleys, dry cleaners, grocery stores, golf courses, salons, soccer fields and gyms. There is a variety of activities to choose from that closely mirror what’s available in the Western world.
Living outside the compounds and in town among the locals, women may find themselves feeling isolated and void of all sources of entertainment. There are no gyms for women in Saudi Arabia, nor are there theatres, bowling alleys or concerts. Saudis are quite private, and tend to spend their time with family and close friends versus socialising and inviting new people into their circles. This doesn’t mean that one won’t meet any friends; it’s just that it’s infinitely more difficult.
Still, regardless of which housing situation an expat woman may find herself in, it’s important to get out and meet new friends with common interests.
Purchase an abaya, leave the compound, walk amongst the locals, and start living life. Women who choose to involve themselves either by joining expat social groups, expanding on existing hobbies, or partaking in one of the many associations or clubs will be one step ahead in getting through the adjustment phase.
Not to mention, once settled in and over the initial shock, women often find there’s more freedom here than what they enjoyed at home. There’s the freedom to pursue anything they like, well almost anything.
Time becomes their own, even if employed. Most households have house-helpers (aka "House Boys") to clean their home. It’s inexpensive and therefore almost expected. This clears days for relaxation, for opportunities to take up that long, almost forgotten hobby, for the possibility of getting a job, or for spending more quality time with their family.