The Women of Riyadh, Part 1

I eagerly began my new job, anxious to meet the women with whom I would be working. Unlike many of my colleagues, I have spent time in an all women’s institution, having gone to an undergraduate college for women. I enjoyed the experience, and was looking forward to once again being in an all female environment.

Men are absolutely not allowed onto the grounds of the women’s academy at all. There are male security guards posted near the entrance, and men drive through to pick up the women at the school. But there is a gate through which they may not ever enter.

Because the abaya is designed to keep away prying male eyes, once inside the school, the women may take off their scarves, veils and all outer covering. All of the women who work there, including and especially the teachers from the west, shed their outer layers the minute they are inside the school.

I am reminded of a scene from “Sex and the City 2” where the women of Abu Dhabi dramatically opened their abayas and designer clothing appeared underneath. This was probably one of the truisms of the movie. The women in the offices at the academy are dressed in designer clothing, carry Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Coach purses, and look as though the make-up has been applied by a professional make-up artist. The transformation is almost magical. The women let their long, thick hair hang freely, they wear brightly colored lipstick, eyeshadow and false eyelashes. Their pencil skirts hug their bodies, and their high heels click and they quickly walk down the corridors and into other offices. Their preferences are clearly individual ones and not dictated by anyone other than themselves.

An all women’s environment is a free zone for many of the academy workers. However, for the students it seems to be another story. They usually keep themselves snuggled in their abayas, but the head and face coverings come off. I suspect that many of them dash from home in their pajamas, or in clothing that’s less than desirable, so the abaya remains comfortably cloaking them.

When school is over, the entrance/exit door is lined with women hastily adjusting their niquabs and hijabs. It’s time to become anonymous once again.

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Comfortably Covered at a shopping mall

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