Saudi Arabia: The Single and Childless Saudi Women

A regular reader of American Bedu blog asked a good question about the single and/or childless women in Saudi Arabia.  Specifically she wanted to know if they can live by themselves and do everything themselves like a similar woman in other continents, without being ostracized?  I will answer these questions based on my own personal observations but my response should not be taken necessarily as a blanket over all women in Saudi Arabia who are either single or childless.

During my time in Saudi I knew some single women in Saudi Arabia who lived by themselves.  I would say they were an exception to the norm.  In one case some of these single women were physicians.  They were not working in the same city as their family and as a result lived by themselves.  However you could say they lived in a protected environment such as on a compound with other employees.

In another case I knew a single Saudi woman who lived by herself in a villa which was located in a residential area.  She had a driver but because she was alone in the villa her driver did not occupy the “drivers quarters.”  She had to be very careful of perceptions or speculation even though no one could see beyond the high wall which surrounded her villa.

I became friends with two amazing women who were sisters and had their own villa in a residential neighborhood.  One of the sisters had been divorced because she could not conceive and the other sister had no intention or desire to ever marry.

All of the women living alone had to be careful of perceptions or negative speculation which could impact on their family name.  I would not say these women were ostracized but they were subjects of curiosity since it is not traditional for a Saudi woman to live by herself as a single woman or a woman without children.

There is less scrutiny placed on widowed women with children who remain in the home they once shared with their husband.  Society will feel an empathy for such women.

Divorced women who are childless are expected to return to their family home instead of living by themselves.



46 Responses

  1. “All of the women living alone had to be careful of perceptions or negative speculation which could impact on their family name. I would not say these women were ostracized but they were subjects of curiosity since it is not traditional for a Saudi woman to live by herself as a single woman or a woman without children.”

    You know until society has evolved to the stage that a woman regardless (emphasis) of her marital status and regardless of whether or not she has children, she needs to be like any other human being: live life at peace and not judged just merely for her marital status.

    No matter how well educated the Saudi women will become, if her society cannot permit this equity of freedom for her to live unharrassed/judged, then there needs be a revolution of social change.

    Or else she just leaves Saudi Arabia, which I suspect happens if she can/has enough money.

    I know I’m being very hard nosed but my parents’ ancestral culture was from China…another culture that was quite patriarchical until 20th century.

    I know what the vestiges mean: my mother tried to have sons…so end was result was 5 daughters and 1 son (he was no. 5 child).

    Am acutely aware how incredibly I am to be born and raised in Canada.

    But perhaps knowledge of personal freedom to determine one’s destiny/potential fully, is relative. If one has never lived outside of Saudi Arabia, then one doesn’t really know.

    Or maybe living with people for a good chunk of adult of life, can make a person more hesitate / afraid to live solo. First few months at university at my place, I had to become accustomed to the quiet of my place. 🙂

    I know, I have 1-2 single, childless Canadian women friends like that. But they wouldn’t admit that to me. I’ve even tried to encourage to take the plane flight and see another province. These are women over 45 yrs.

    Fear can really stop a person knowing more about themselves, the good stuff.

  2. Thanks for this responsive post! I’m sure there will be a part 2. Just a feelin’ I have. Apologize for missing words in my comments.

  3. very interesting indeed!!! I wonder how families react when a woman expresses that she doesnt want to marry… Im not a saudi or an arab, but when i tell people (specially muslims) that i dont wish to ever get married, they dont seem to like it, i have been called a “rebel woman” or even a crazy woman…

  4. Interesting. I wonder how many women there are that are single and or childless in Saudi. How do the other women treat them? Family members that is. I have not knowingly meet anyone like that who was Saudi. I do have a friend who is a teacher over there who is in her mid 40’s unmarried and childless. She could not have done what she has done if she had chosen a different path. She teaches ESL in the Kingdom. She LOVES her students!

  5. Jean, what a really eloquent response:) I know several women in the KSA who never plan to marry. They do not want to give up control of their lives to a man and his family. Instead, they plan to start their own businesses, and live in both Arabia and Europe/States. I am surprised by the number of young women (college age) who tell me this.

    Not that long ago Western women were thought of as odd when they chose not to marry, or put off marrying in their 20s….and choosing not to have children was thought of as selfish. It still is in some quarters. At least we were able to move out on our own, and easily find work to support ourselves. It’s not the same for Saudi women.

  6. I knew 4 saudi women who were single, and 1 who was married but had no kids. Neither she nor her husband had any issues and they both were physicians and seemed to enjoy life I don’t know privately what they went through but they seemed content.

    As for the Single women, they were all single by choice. They did have families who travelled often to the US and UK , they told me initially there was pressure to get married but as yrs went by not so much. They all lives in the compound and had good relationships with their families. There dad’s were in and out mostly to help with paperwork when needed. I only know of 1 dr who had some trouble while she was leaving saudi for a conf and she had to get her dad to come to the airport etc., I’m not sure what it was about, but she got teased quite a bit in the plane 🙂

    3 of those women are single still, one got married to her collegue in the US quite late and chose to stay here . They don’t have kids and i don’t think want any considering they are in their late 40’s..

    I think it depends on the family, My FIl would have had a fit if any of his daughters wanted to stay single. i don’t think their opinion counted for much. so there are varying degrees of freedom depending on ind families, but i think society as a whole in saudi ( atleast when i was there) was not too much for single women and they definetly did not understand the logic behin having no Kids..

  7. AB, really interesting post
    Jean, nice comparison to China. I’ve heard the position of women there has historically been pretty appalling.

    Fondue, where are you from that people think your crazy. I’m American, single, childless and 48. As a Catholic, celibacy is seen as positive. Mostly people don’t have a negative reaction to me although some people have thought I’m gay.

    AK, I like the reminder that Western culture in the past was pretty bad about treatment of women.

    I’ve seen studies that the more rights that women have the better the society. My father always said,”Educate a man and he can get a job; educate a woman and you educate the next generation”.

    Bedu, is there anyway you could interview one of these women? Although this is probably not a good idea for these women as they need to protect their reputations.

  8. @Annie

    Your father was brilliant. That is an absolute true statement.

  9. In my observations other women were very supportive of the single woman. Families could be temperamental. I think most parents in Saudi Arabia would like to see their daughters married

  10. My parents wanted to see me married, that’s not so strange.
    My parents did kick me out of the house of course to go and study and become a self supporting adult.

  11. @ American Bedu

    I think even in the US, most people want to see their kids married and see grandchildren. The thing is though most parents do want what is the best for their children and for the most part accept the children’s decisions as the ultimate goal is that they have a rewarding, fulfilling, and happy life. I can’t say if this is the case in Saudi or not but one would hope that it is. It is encouraging that other women are being supportive of these single women.


    Did they kick you out or send you to the University?

  12. Send me to university, and trying to keep hovering over me 😉
    I loved my parents very much and went home every weekend anyway. But I also like to be alone, so from the moment I started living alone I loved it. In the Netherlands students typically rent a room in a ”students house” in a University town, sharing the kitchen and bathrooms, usually these are old fairly crappy houses.

  13. Art-college actually.

  14. The good thing is that you will not find a woman end being homeless like in the US or in other continents. And I think you have never come across homeless Saudi woman and Saudi people should be proud for that.

  15. There will be homeless women. For example, women who have been divorced or widowed and don’t have a family, and no chance of a job, and no social housing.
    And what about if one of those old pedophile dies, having brought a ten year old girl for ”marriage” and dies a few years later, this girl will have no education, no money, and as ”used goods” no future. If her former family doesn’t want her, or is not alive anymore, she will end up on the street as well.
    I bet KSA is full of homeless women, living in shacks or tents or on the street.

  16. A quick google search located lots of information about women in poverty in Saudi Arabia.

    Um Fahad says on a great day, she sells about $40 worth of merchandise. She says more common are the days when she sells nothing at all.

    The widowed mother of 11 says all of what she earns goes to feeding her family and to the rent for her stall and for her home. She also gets a few hundred dollars in charity once in a while from family and friends.

    But with her landlord planning to raise her house rent by about $100 a month, Um Fahad says she fears she will end up on the street.

    Her story is hardly unique in Saudi Arabia. Activists and analysts here say the widow is part of a growing class of impoverished Saudis who don’t benefit from the country’s vast oil and business wealth.

    They say women are especially at risk in this strictly segregated society, which prefers to limit a woman’s role to stay-at-home wife and mother.

  17. The dozen years since the Persian Gulf War have seen slums grow up on the outskirts of Jidda and Riyadh, the capital. Beggars hawk bottles of water at intersections. Penniless women huddle in strips of shade outside their crumbling mud-brick houses, begging for money. Many families in the capital are so poor they can’t afford electricity. Raw sewage runs through parts of Jidda.

    Ok, so the women in this news story have a home, a crumbling brick slum without electricity, and with raw sewage floating around.

    I prefer my own country with lots of agencies to help the homeless, safe houses for those women who need to escape abusive husbands, laws, and freedom.

  18. Looking this up I also found that there is a staggering amount of street children in Saudi Arabia, 70% are Saudi and more than half are girls. Girls with disabilities are seen begging with their mothers.
    These children get no education.
    60% come from fathers who have more than one wife, and 50% of these fathers have no work.
    That figures, no income but still marry more than one wife and keep breeding children like a demented rabbit. And those children to end up begging in the street.
    I have never seen a child begging in the street in my country.

    So please do not try to make out Saudi Arabia is some sort of Utopia for women.

  19. Oh you will find plenty of homeless women 🙂
    With all the restrictions on women it’s actually much worse, widowed women of limited means ( meaning husband upped and died without providing for not permitting wife to work) with no car/ no driver and not much job prospects ( as in unskilled / low skilled jobs) are in my opinion TOAST in Saudi .. they have to depend ont he good will of their families . and please do not tell me families are happy to support them 🙂
    This is another pet peeve of mine , along with the spend what you don’t have and have many kids and hope god will feed them scheme 🙂 just venting..

  20. (I bet KSA is full of homeless women)

    Are you serious that Saudi is full of Saudis homeless women? And you are ready to bet?

    Women who live in tent in the dessert can’t be called homeless, isn’t?

    Women who live in shacks can’t be called homeless, like what we see in the north like Arar or Sekaka or in the south like Jezan. I know some of them can move to the city but they choose not to.

    I witness one case myself where in one town in the middle of the country, the Government built more than 50 houses to accommodate the people who live in the desert around the town, however, some families came and lived in these houses but after few months most of them left and went back to the desert because of two reasons:

    first: they say we don’t want to bee seen as poor who take donation and they want to maintain their pride.

    Second reason: they say they lost their freedom because they are surrounded by houses and other families and they like to live in an open area with their goats and camels around, and it seems more fun for them. can you call these people homeless?

    Now we come to the street. I think it is difficult to prove that there are Saudi women living in the street and please I would be grateful if you share any case with us, because I think if this phenomena exist then it should publicised as much as possible. Many thanks.

  21. Aafke-Art

    Thank you very much for this information, but still no prove of Saudi homeless women.

    Um Fahad not homeless but at risk.

    outside their crumbling mud-brick houses, they are not homeless.

    child begging in the street, well they still have houses to go to.

    It is not about theGovernment is good but rather it is about the structure of the society that doesn’t allow women to live homeless in the street. And such a society should be credited for that. it is a success. The Government is bad but the society is good.Once again thank you.

  22. Radhaa made a good comment

  23. Saudi women trained as sales persons for intimate item stores

    WHy on earth do people around the world still think saudi women are not allowed to work or go out ?

  24. There definitely are homeless women in KSA. Some of them are probably not KSA nationals so of course they don’t count, right???

  25. @abu dohem:

    Then by your assessment the US has no homeless. As there are church’s, shelters, and housing projects to assist women/children. There are no homeless as they have tents, rubble buildings, cardboard boxes, abandon cars to live in as they chose not to access those services. They have a means to get out and earn money by begging on the streets as it is an equal opportunity corner. At least here they don’t need a owner’s permission to work or garner their livelihood, mobility, or any other service. Heck they can even ride a bicycle without men possibly making out a women’s backside and eliciting muslim male base animal instincts. (Sacasam intended.)

    Are you for real? This is the best argument you have. If this is what you call a good society I think you need to re-evaluate your standards.

  26. people are blaming KSA as if in their country every one is rich !!

  27. @ana hindi:

    Wow, I don’t know of any country where everyone is rich. Yes, women are allowed to go to work as long as their owner’s let them. Lying to yourself over the conditions of human suffering is a terrible lie. Such lies only perpetuates the suffering of many and the denial of such suffering by the privileged few.

  28. @abu dohem:

    I’ve told it a million times andi will again, I have 2 SIL’s and 11 kids who have no home, no means of support, no earnings, no car , no nothing.. they survive with whatever monies we and an another bil sends them.. so society does nothing for them except make sure they are judged if they so much as talk to a male.
    so no society there is no better, and does NOT help them, 2 individuals help them 🙂 and if say something bad befalls our family or my BIL’s and financial trouble is upon us , guess whose source of funds dries up….. is that really empowering women? why can’t these women work in any job with men? why can’t they use public transport ( if any) alongside any male and provide fo rtheir children? what are the little girs going to do whenthey grow up and don’t have money to go to college ( or don’t land a scholarship?)
    No place is perfect there will never be a perfect country. no govt or society can take care of everyone for free. However most govt and societies do not stop a woman from providing for herself with meaningless rules…think about it.

  29. No we blame a completely and extremely surrealistic claim that in KSA all women are fine and taken care of.

    Abu dohem made an absurd statement and that is what we protest against.
    Learn to read

  30. that was to ana hindi

  31. Wendy
    Thank you, but please provide evidence, Other nationality is different matter and need separate discussion.


    The tents in Arabia are different from the tent you see in the streets of Las Vegas for example, it is bigger and nice and the bedouins in the dessert choose to live in them. Mud-brick house is not good house but still called a house. In terms of shacks this is different issue and I am not sure if these cases qualify to homeless, not because my standards are low but because of the circumstances surround these cases, will I agree these are bad but I think it needs more investigation. For instance, you find number of families living near each other in the edge of the city in these shacks not only women and these are well known cases and there not so many of them, I can say handful areas has this phenomena, and also there is a lot of controversies about these cases. However, exposing poverty in Saudi is good thing, but the discussion about homeless Saudi women.

    Yes the society is good. And to your knowledge after 9/11 it is become difficult to saudis to give donations and the government shut down so many charity organisations and charity work is very difficult in saudi, and this because of huge pressure from the United State and the justification was to combat terrorism. So people can’t get help in Saudi because people in Boston or Denver want to live safe. With all these restrictions people manage to reach the poor shouldering the risk that they may end up in jail or may be in Guantanamo. And now it is all up to the government and as you know Saudi government is incompetence in all most every thing. And we are not allowed to establish new charity organisation because of the government restrictions which resulted from US restriction and threat to our government. If you read Wikileaks you understand what I mean. Many thanks.

  32. radhaa

    Thank you. You provide good information, yes Saudi Government should do more to help women and hope they will listen.

  33. abu dohem,

    I would love some links. I have heard too much on my societies woes are the result of the Great Satan, instead of blaming your own government and the fact that the people refuse to change the system. It always seems easier to blame the US instead of dealing with the actually problems within your own society and how to objectively tackle them.

    Why don’t you provide a little more on your stance than it someone’s else fault but your society and government.

  34. bigstick

    Thank you for comment. you love links to what? I wrote many facts or lets say claims and it is difficult to provide links to all of them.

  35. abu dohem:

    You mentioned wikileaks. There are numerous documents that were leaked. Do you have any specific items that shed any validity to your statements. Yes, you have made many statements. Statements you have made are based upon your opinion. It is like throwing out a statistic. Most of them are made up. Why don’t you provide me with a little more substance until then your agrument leads me to believe you are person in denial and who likes pointing fingers.

  36. The charities that were shut down did not give their zakat money to the poor, they gave it to terrorists. That is why they were shut down. Yes, people in Denver and Boston want to be safe. However, most islamist terrorists attack their own people. The Saudi government should track charitable donations and make sure these go to the poor.

    ana.hindi, said:
    “people are blaming KSA as if in their country every one is rich !!”

    Everyone in Saudi should be rich. Why does the self-appointed, “royal” family and their thousands of princes, retainers and hangers on keep the oil money for themselves and their show-off projects when there are so many who are unemployed and extremely poor in Saudi?

    Does not the oil belong to all Saudis?

    According to this article from the Gulf news a staggering 30% of Saudi nationals are are living in poverty…
    “Thirty per cent of Saudis earn less than SR 1660 and thousands of them like Ahmad, the watchman, earn less than SR 1200,” said Dr Al Fasi. “Around half of all Saudi families don’t own their homes, with a considerable percentage of them living in shanties like those whom King Abdullah visited six years ago,” she said.

    Official figures for unemployment in country are 9.8% although researchers suggest that the figure could be as high at 25%….”

    It is a crime that women are so restricted that even IF they have a superior education they still cannot work in freedom and equality along side men. Perhaps if Saudi women could work, their country would move forward instead of being so far behind and depending on others for everything.

    Without educating their women and allowing equal access to employment Saudi will always be behind. When the oil runs out, this will relegate Saudis to appalling poverty unless they diversify their economy and use all of their human capital including that of women.

  37. Saudi Arabia Beheads Woman for Practicing ‘Sorcery’

    “The execution of Amina bint Abdulhalim Nassar took place in the northern province of Jawf for “practicing witchcraft and sorcery,” the ministry said in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency…

    When one reads things like this, the only conclusion one can come to is that there is simply no hope. Why bother trying to discuss or change anything in this backward society of the dark ages?

  38. “I’ve seen studies that the more rights that women have the better the society. My father always said,”Educate a man and he can get a job; educate a woman and you educate the next generation”.

    Depends on the family…it was my father who pushed us hard academically and to attend university. Not my mother. But now, she realizes how useful a post-high school education can be: all of us have university education.

    In case some folks here, think I’m just a Westernized woman spouting off feminism and not understanding “traditions”:

    My mother was a picture bride. My parents only got to know each other by a few lettters, photos and then my mother married my father as soon as soon landed in Canada from China. This was in the 1950’s. So identify with people who talk about their parents as arranged or sort of arranged marriages.

    My mother knows how extremely lucky she is since my father is a kind, even-tempered man who never hurt her physically. (but he still wanted his wife to stay home full-time, etc.) And I consider our parents’ marriage ….not the best, but certainly and absolutely not the terrible either. We were /are loved in the end, regardless of gender and they only wanted the best.

    still like alot of women and men in the WEst, we had to resist the instant expectation I should marry after university… The big difference is the freedom a single adult can choose to live their life productively after they finish school, get a job, etc.

  39. @proscioutto – ‘When one reads things like this, the only conclusion one can come to is that there is simply no hope.’

    I agree, did you catch where the father that raped his daughter for 7 years only got lashes and jail time? Yet this woman who allegedly ‘practiced sorcery’ gets beheaded? What a fuckery that place is!

  40. If one wants to give a donation within Saudi Arabia just go to any local mosque as well as the number of charitable organizations which do continue to exist in the Kingdom.

    I remember a few months back Arab News featured an article on the homeless in Saudi and showcased Saudi families in Makkah living under an overpass. After the article was printed these families were provided with houses.

    As per earlier commentors, families generally do provide for men or women down on their luck yet at the same time, homelessness does exist to a degree within the Kingdom. There probably will not be reliable statistics since this is subject that is preferred to be kept buried under the sand.

Lynn, said:
    “@proscioutto – ‘When one reads things like this, the only conclusion one can come to is that there is simply no hope.’

I agree, did you catch where the father that raped his daughter for 7 years only got lashes and jail time? Yet this woman who allegedly ‘practiced sorcery’ gets beheaded? What a fuckery that place is!”

    In this case the four letter word applies in spades. 😀

    What is so fascinating is that the Saudis hold their backward way of life up as the moral/ethical example for the whole world to follow. Everyone, according to the Salafist/Wahhab fantasy, should live like the Saudis.

    One never knows whether to laugh or cry hysterically at that notion. In the meantime, they use everything Western, believe in magic, honor kill their women, maim criminals, claim that misrah “marriage” is not prostitution, have a 25% unemployment and 30% poverty rate. But hey! Life is so superior to that of the rest of the world, especially that of the West.

    Talking about this is ridiculous. The Saudis need to fix their own messed up system and culture.

    In the meantime, this anti-any religion woman needs to go see to the Christmas decorations and the fabulous Moroccan lamb shanks braising in the oven.

    Time to open the wine and leave this cr@p to those arguing as to how many jinn can dance on the head of a pin. 😉 

  42. Annie,

    “AK, I like the reminder that Western culture in the past was pretty bad about treatment of women.”

    Misogyny is highly prevalent in the West. Please do some research; bell hooks is one scholar to recommend.


  43. abu dohem … It should not matter whether or not the woman is a Saudi national. There are women living in KSA that are homeless and nobody cares. Open your eyes and ears and know it and if you think it makes a difference if they are nationals or not then shame on you.

  44. Wendy

    ha ha ha you are right shame on me, but in fact I didn’t mean discrimination but the article seems to target Saudi women and the focus on them and so I try to focus on them.

    However, if we are going to open discussion about other nationality then I think there should no boarder between Saudi and Yemen and Iraq and Jordan etc, and we should be one country. Even Iran I hope one day we will be under one government.

  45. Personally speaking…I know that religious based charities in Bahrain have a hard time reconciling themselves to lending a hand of aid to those they perceive as not “deserving” it. Ex: while I was married to that human piece of garbage that portrayed himself as an upright muslim man…we were routinely given charity when we needed it. (and truth be told, my ex often went seeking it even when we didn’t seriously need it). These same men, who always said salam to me, lowered their eyes when speaking to me etc and personally handed me things while asking if I needed anything else….suddenly couldn’t be bothered with me once I became a shameful divorced woman. Almost to the day of my divorce all charity that was given to us before divorce, dried up. Ironic considering the children and I actually needed it more now then we ever needed it before. They kept making excuses as to why they were taking their time…or one even said there was no more charity to give (highly suspect since the parking lot was full of other families carrying things to their car etc) and not to mention…for the first time ever in the history of us receiving charity from these islamic places….my sons were interrogated as to our living circumstances….what monies we were receiving from the exass (none) what other charities were helping us (none) how much money my own family was giving me (none) or other families (none..though my best friend was helping in any way she could). Not to mention the reasons for my divorce were scrutinized as well…apparently my divorcing him didn’t sit too well with the charities and they questioned whether that was a wise move to jeopardize my children by making them fatherless and penniless “just” to get my freedom (damn western woman). I found it interesting that not a single one of them suggested HE actually pay his child support as court ordered, paltry sum that it was. (about $400 for 5 children or Bd150) My best friend, who is a journalist in Bahrain, actually shamed them all by writing an article in her newspaper about under what conditions the hand of charity is withdrawn and for whom. She got a lot of flak for that article from the mosques etc…but she also got a lot of complaints from Bahrainis who had been treated in a similar fashion. Piss off the establishment and you don’t deserve charity.

    No idea the situations of the ladies in Saudi, but if they have made choices that those in charge of the charities didn’t like…I can well imagine the well going dry…for them anyhow.

  46. @ anthrogeek10 & Annie,

    Misogyny may still be somewhat prevalent in the West, however, compared to the rest of the world, especially the Muslim world it is a cake walk. There are laws against discrimination of any kind. It is a rare person or organization that gets away with misogyny or any sort of discrimination for long in the West.

    The Western woman, even in the dark days of chatteldom, was never, ever as restricted by men or society as are Muslim women. While there were chaperones (and still are today) for unmarried, young women they were never kept prisoners in their houses, forced to wear shrouds or not permitted to do work. Yes, for people of the upper classes and royalty there were arranged marriages, still women moved about freely in society right along side men. Women worked the farms with their husbands and even alone if they were widowed. They worked in shops and with the advent of the industrial revolution, in factories. Wealthy women Managed estates.

    One does not even need to read a history book on the status of women. Simply look at art from the Greeks on forward. Men and women are always depicted together, with women modestly dressed or not (as in Elizabethan times) and not restricted as are Muslim women.

    Women are not leaving their “horrible” lives in the West to go to some perfect Islamic land where they will be taken care of, “protected” like jewels and bred like cattle.

    abu dohem, said: …” I think there should no boarder between Saudi and Yemen and Iraq and Jordan etc, and we should be one country. Even Iran I hope one”

    Ah, yes dreams of a Caliphate. That should be fun. Toss a coin as to which “government” is the better of the failed States.

    @ Coolred38, Crimany! What a story.

    You should write articles on that now.

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