Princess Jawaher Fahad Alsaud has traveled around the world since she was a girl, but if she had to live anywhere other than her home country, Saudi Arabia, well, she just couldn’t. Jawaher, thirty-eight, has seven children and is married to a nephew of King Abdullah, the head of the Saudi royal family. I spoke with Jawaher about her love for her country, her husband’s football hobby, her relationship with her children, and the truisms of the female experience around the world.
Q: What is the rhythm of your daily life?
A: I have five girls and two boys. The oldest is seventeen and a half and the youngest is four. It’s so enjoyable, but at the same time it’s a lot of work. Five years ago I used to work in early childhood education. I opened a preschool in the beginning and then we started first, second, third, and fourth grades. We had the school for ten years and then we decided to build our own space according to our needs. But most of the work was things I needed to do, and for the last five years, I’ve decided not to work so I can concentrate on my family. It was hard for me to compromise between my life, with my kids growing up, and my work. Now I do volunteer work and at the same time I don’t lose contact with what’s going on around me, my house, and my family. For me, being a mother is work in itself. With seven kids it’s not easy. I do have help, but our social life is so busy in and of itself.
Q: What kind of school do your children attend?
A: They go to private school. In Saudi Arabia, private schools have the same curriculum as government schools, except for English. In government schools they start English in sixth grade and in private schools they start it in kindergarten.
Q: Tell me about your relationship with your children?
A: I’m thirty-eight years old. I was married when I was nineteen, and by the time I was twenty, I had my first daughter. So I felt she was more of a doll—it’s like you don’t know what to do, but you feel the responsibility. When you see us now, we look more like sisters than like mother and daughter. I love them so much, I take care of them, but the motherhood feeling I didn’t really feel it with the older children. By the third kid I felt more like a mother’s sense. We’re very, very close. We have open, but respectful conversations. We go out a lot together. We share interests together. We share the same books. If we watch television we discuss things together. We do silly things together.
Q: Tell me about that respect.
A: The thing I feel is really strong in our culture is respect. Especially in the royal family, you really see it a lot. When we are walking, the younger one would never walk in front of the older person. Respect is the thing I pray we will never lose in this family. I am very close to my kids, but there’s that line they don’t cross.
Q: What are the silly things you do together?
A: We do silly things a lot. If we take pictures, we sometimes take silly, stupid pictures. We’ll jump on a trampoline. We’ll do things everybody does, but in a silly way. Last summer we went to Aspen. We all went rafting together, paragliding. We’ll do crazy things with our hair and we’ll start jumping and dancing. People working in my house will say, “Oh my God, our boss is crazy.”
Q: What are some of the most common misconceptions that Americans have regarding Saudi women?
A: People have their own ideas about Saudi Arabia. Especially women. We’re like anywhere else in the world. We have our positives and we have our negatives. What I don’t like is how the press shows you fat Saudi women, women walking ten feet behind their husbands, only the poorest people. It’s very rare they show you the positive. But Saudi women are strong and they’re very powerful, whether they’re working or at home. Some women make more than their husbands. Some women are supporting their families. There is equality of pay. When we’re here in Saudi Arabia, we’re used to the restrictions and we don’t feel like it’s restricting us, like it’s choking us. We always think of change as for the better. I think change has to be taken step by step, so people around you will understand. We have to understand our needs, our grandparents’ needs, our great grandparents’ needs.
Q: What do women around the world share in common?
A: Our needs are all the same. I have friends around the world and most of the time when we talk about things, we talk about respect. Respect for family, respect for the workplace, and respect for the people who are around us. Plus we always work hard as women to prove that we’re strong and capable of doing things that men do. Women all over the world are perfectionists. Sometimes we forget that we’re not the same as men. We’re not equal in every way. Our opportunities have to be equal. Our education has to be equal. Our health services have to be equal. But there are some things men can do and women can’t do. And there are some things women can do and men can’t do. We’re softer than men. We want to be equal in everything, but God created us differently.
Q: What do you think about your husband’s love of football?
A: I have to be honest with you. When you think about it, it’s only once a week. My husband has a lot of pressure in work and it takes his mind off work. He loves it, even when the 49ers are losing. Every Sunday he has his friends over. There are five TVs and each one of them has a different team playing. They watch it in the basement because I cannot handle it if it’s not in the basement. They have helmets for every team. It’s a man’s jungle down there.