By LaDonna Womochel
Jane Scholz, resident of Robson Ranch, frequent world traveler, and member of Voices United at Robson Ranch, introduced her new friends from Uganda, Rwanda, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia to the members of Voices United, attending the monthly meeting. Jane, who retired from a career in journalism in 2012, shared with the attendees what it was like to be an American woman traveling alone in places most people only see on television or read about on the internet.
Jane brought to life what it was like to be within feet of a mountain gorilla family headed by the patriarch Muhoza, weighing in about 450 pounds. She explained how these animals have no natural enemies except man and are not intimidated by the presence of humans as long as they follow the rules enforced by the national park guides. With the help of porters, even retired journalists got a personal view of gorillas in this difficult physical environment.
After a rousing look at the gorillas, Jane moved on to her visits to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Jane’s photos in Egypt highlighted some archeological sites. Her story focused on the powerful female pharaoh, Hatshepsut, her temple, and the attempts of later pharaohs to eliminate her historical presence, even though she reestablished some of the trade routes that made Egypt strong.
Jane then moved our minds to Saudi Arabia. She commented on the restrictive environment, particularly for women, that existed only a few years ago. Jane noted that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia plans to spend more than $100 billion on developing access to the archeological sites in Saudi Arabia, with the intent of attracting 55 million non-religious tourists a year by 2030. Some of the plans involve resort islands in the Red Sea and a ski resort in the mountains. The expectation is that this activity will create a million new jobs.
In 2010, only 10% of Saudi women worked outside the home; today 32% of the work force is female. To achieve this economic growth, the government has changed laws affecting Saudi women. Women can now drive, own their own business, and vote in municipal elections without a male guardian’s permission.
For example, women are no longer required to wear a full-length abaya and head covering outside of holy cities and mosques. But the changes like these are slow in the society itself. On the street, only about 8% of the women are not covered from head to toe.
When Jane asked two well-educated Saudi women why they still wore abaya and head coverings, one said that it was a function of her religious beliefs; the other said that she could wear her pajamas underneath if she wanted.