JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Amna Fatani knows she wants a brilliant career and a life different from that of Saudi women of her mother’s generation who married early, usually to a husband not of their own choosing.
The 27-year-old, studying for her master’s degree at Georgetown University in Washington and hoping to someday become Saudi Arabia’s first female labor minister, is part of a growing number of Saudi women choosing to remain single through their 20s and into their 30s as they pursue other ambitions.
The trend has ruffled ultraconservatives who see it as an affront to the very foundations of the kingdom, where strict interpretations of Islam and rigid tribal codes have long dictated the terms of marriage.
“My friends and I have reached a point (where) we’re very specific about what we want,” she said. “I need someone who trusts that if I need to do something, I can make the decision to ask for help or choose to do it alone.”
Saudi women stand at the center of a societal pivot between the kingdom’s push for greater women’s education and rights to work, and laws that give men final say over their lives.
As the country mourns the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz last week, the future of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia is unclear. At times Abdullah appeared to favor expanded rights for women, even allowing them to vote in local elections. But where his successor stands on the issue isn’t known. What is certain is that current laws are strict and limiting.