Deema Al- Khudair
JEDDAH: Social reforms in the Saudi Arabia are bearing fruit day by day as more women find job opportunities in fields once thought to be exclusively male domains.
In recent months, several women have made headlines by working in groundbreaking industries.
Um Sultan Al-Otaibi, one of a few, if not the only, female fruit seller in Saudi Arabia, entered the male-dominated field after deciding it “desperately needs a woman’s touch.”
Standing proudly next to her fruit stall in Al-Shatea district, north of Jeddah, she told Arab news: “Work is allowed for both men and women and any successful noble field is something we would all be proud to work in.”
She experimented in projects without success, but learned from her mistakes. “Food projects have been overly consumed, and so have fashion projects and decorations. Only fruit and vegetable selling wasn’t overly consumed,” she said.
She added that women are more cautious when shopping for fruit and vegetables.
“The person who knows how to pick out the best fruit and vegetables most in the world is a woman,” she said. “The municipality gave me a space for my kiosk and I pick out the fruit and vegetables myself, always choosing the finest produce that will make customers happy,” she added.
“When I first started, I said to myself that it’s another experiment. If it worked out, great. If it didn’t, that’s OK,” she said.
Al-Otaibi said the first customers who visited her stall found it strange that a woman would help them shop. But she said her job became easier and more comfortable with time — some visitors grew confident in her abilities and became regular customers.
On the difficulties of working in the market, Al-Otaibi said: “It’s already difficult for men, you can imagine how difficult it is for women. “The first challenge is the timing — you have to be here at your kiosk by dawn. Second, you’re dealing with a group of men and you’re the only woman in the field, and you have to work on your own.
“You take your own car and drive around shops to pick out the highest quality fruit and vegetables. It was difficult at first, but I know how to manage my time now and finish my tasks in record time.”
The fruit seller credits social reforms for enabling her to work in the industry.
“Our leadership enabled women to work in any field they wanted. It gave me the courage to pursue this. I know I’m doing the right thing. Women should be included in all fields,” she said.
While Al-Otaibi is paving the way for women, she also has some much-needed advice.
“My suggestion for other women who want to run their own kiosk is to forget all the difficulties, because they will find difficulties in every other field. People will eventually get used to it,” she said.
“It is a social step forward to diversify the market,” she added.