I live in Dubai in the UAE, not Saudi Arabia.
Please stop confusing the two countries. I can’t talk about what it’s like to live in any other country in the Middle East, other than the UAE and Dubai in particular.
But I can talk about living as an expat spouse in another country, in South Africa, different to my country of birth, the UK and where I live now.
Living as a none working expat, as in I'm only living abroad to support my husband while he works in another country for a set period of time, means that my visa reads 'not entitled to work' and therefore I am unable to obtain things such as bank, phone accounts and have utility bills in my own name. This is because I do not have an income, my husband sponsors me as in he is taking full financial responsibility for me being in the country with him, including my emotional, mental and physical well being.
It means I have to have a letter of consent from him to work, which makes me more desirable to employers as they are not financially responsible for me in regards to paying a housing allowance and providing medical cover and I need a letter for me to drive, meaning my husband will take full responsibility to ensure I am insured, my vehicle is road worthy and I have the means to pay any fines.
The above applied to life in South Africa also, but strangely enough I didn't meet the requirements under BEE Black Economic Empowerment law to work there regardless of whether my husband sponsored me or not as I didn't meet the skills shortage requirements.
If I were the one with the visa to work and he was accompanying me, then the same rules would apply to him also.
It does not mean that because I am a woman I am a 2nd class citizen, in any way shape or form.
I did work for a year in Dubai as a Teacher, I made a decision to stop working as realistically one of us needs to be able to travel to and from the UK to support our families living there and as a Teacher I cannot earn the salary to maintain our standard of living and fund my husband to do the same level of travel.
I was also offered a job with a sponsored visa by the UAE Government for another teaching post, which I had to decline when my father died last year.
Now that part is all cleared up, let me tell you what it's like living as a woman in Dubai.
I can drive a car.
I don't have to wear an abaya or cover my head or face. I have to ensure my shoulders are covered if I go to a government building and wear a head scarf if I visit one of the two mosques that offer tours to none Muslims.
I can drink alcohol. Everyone needs a licence to purchase alcohol from a liquor store, all one has to do is provide proof they are not a Muslim to do this by filling in a form and paying a small fee. I don't have a licence, there's no need to pay for two and besides with all the travel we do, we purchase what we want at duty free.
I can buy pork products in the local supermarket.
I can wear a swimming costume or bikini on a public beach.
I can go out on my own.
I can buy myself a glass of wine at a bar without my husband being present.
I actually have my own bank account, car and insurance and mobile phone contract, in my own name, from when I was working that I don't have to change now I'm not.
I can hold my husband's hand in public, I can hug him and give him a kiss when I greet him at the airport or say goodbye.
I can go out for a meal or a drink or get in a car with a man who is not my husband, father, brother or son.
My Doctor is male.
I can celebrate Christmas, Easter, Halloween and purchase everything I need/want from the local stores and Malls. I can attend a Christian church.
And if I choose to, on public transport I can sit/stand in the woman and children only section of a bus/train.
All in all life in Dubai isn't that different from living in the UK, other than the fact that Dubai is a much safer country for me to live in, regardless of whether I'm male or female. I've yet to encounter groups of drunks on a weekend, I don't come across people fighting, swearing or throwing up in the street. I have no issues travelling across the city late at night on public transport or in my car. I have no fear when I go out alone at night walking the dog, taking a short cut through a park regardless of the time of day and have absolutely no worries about my personal safety in regards to my belongings. If I leave my bag at a table in a restaurant while I go to the toilet or on the beach while I go for a swim. I can guarantee it will still be there on my return.