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By Maria Mosquera
A country that until recently was closed to the world. A culture that seems alien to us. Thousands of kilometers away separate Argentina from Saudi Arabia. But only when one reaches this land as far as desert does one begin to dissolve prejudices and enjoy the experience of living in this country.
The first question of all my friends in Argentina was, do you have to be covered all in black?
The truth is that Saudi Arabia is changing at the speed of light, opening up to the world . When I first arrived in Riyadh in 2019, yes, I had to get used to using an “abaya” when going out on the street. I never covered my hair or my face. But at that time it was still mandatory for adult women - including foreign women - to use abaya when we were outside our homes.
What did I feel about using an abaya? At first, indignation at feeling deprived of my individuality, for feeling compelled to be invisible. But very soon I discovered that there was another way to go through that experience.
For starters, I discovered the comfort of being at home, throwing a abaya on a pyjamas (literal) and being in 30sec on the street as if nothing. And I also learned that between an abaya with a bow at the waist and a black and gold dress of Rhapsody... there's not much difference.
Today, in Saudi Arabia, it is no longer mandatory for women to use abaya. But the vast majority of them still use them for practicality. Today the abayas are colored, embroidered, they wear them open as if it were a kimono or closed. It is true that the vast majority of women still go out into the streets with black abayas. But it's out of habit. They feel more comfortable and safe like this. They feel that they do not attract unwanted looks, they are neat and elegant. I, 100% Argentinean, go dressed normally as I would in Buenos Aires and, definitely, I feel like I attract too many looks. Even today, to go to certain places, I still choose to use an abaya. I feel better that way, and it's my free choice.
So, before I think that women are repressed and that's why they use abayas, I invite you to reflect. How would you feel, as they would look at you, what would they yell at you if - as a woman - you went for a walk around your neighborhood just wearing a bombacha or bikini? Would you feel properly dressed, comfortable? No one would look at you with contempt or lust, wouldn't they yell at you barbarities? It's the same thing. The use of abayas is a code that society shares, which makes women feel safe and relaxed when they are here in Saudi Arabia.
Publication Date: 14/02/2021
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