In this series, Professor Mona Siddiqui, Assistant Principal Religion and Society, chats to members of our community to find out more about them. Each fortnight she’ll be asking, what is the one regret that has shaped their past, and what is their one hope for the future.
This week Mona’s guest is Maryam Aldossari, Lecturer in International Human Resource Management in the Business School.
Mona Siddiqui: Tell us a little bit about your work and your research at the University.
Maryam Aldossari: I look at lots of different topics but I’m most interested in gender, especially in the context of Saudi Arabia as it’s a country that keeps giving us topics to cover. I focus on things like political resistance, inequality in terms of gender, the role of the state and so on.
I can’t go to Saudi Arabia, because of my political views and I haven’t been there for five years but thanks to technology it’s not difficult to do things online so I can still interview men and women, especially about all the changes that are happening now.
MS: You came here in 2008, for a masters and then returned to Saudi Arabia before coming back to the UK. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey?
MA: When I did my masters I wasn’t thinking of doing a PhD, but the idea of going back home was something I was trying to avoid. So I started doing a PhD and then I got really interested in the topics and the research but for the whole time in the back of my head I knew I needed to go back, mainly because of my mother. I wanted to live with her because she has Alzheimer’s and I felt obligated to go and live with her. When I finished my PhD I was completely convinced that was the best thing to do it because I’m very close to my mum and I worried how much longer she will remember me.
So I went back home in 2015, but then I came back to the UK. It wasn’t really planned. When I was in Saudi Arabia, I changed, obviously, but my surroundings didn’t change and I felt that I was watching my life, instead of being active in it. There was a lot of pressure from my family to get married, to have a job, but not in academia and not writing about Saudi Arabia because there is a risk associated with that. I felt that there were a lot of conversations behind doors about what is best for my life and I felt I was loosing control and I couldn’t voice my opinions.
I started to secretly apply for jobs in the UK but I wasn’t 100 per cent sure I wanted to go. I was planning on coming on a short visit to see some friends and I went to the airport with the assumption that I would go for 10 days and then come back. Then I found that my permission to travel was cancelled by my male guardian and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back and that spot was when I decided I need to convince the security guard there to let me pass and I will never come back.
It was very difficult to leave my mother but I thought that if I stay, I might loose myself as well. I wasn’t 100 per cent thinking – I was angry as it was a huge violation of my freedom, and also my travel freedom and my life weren’t in my control until I broke what they thought was their idea of what should be my life so I took the flight and I couldn’t think about it. When I arrived I had a lot of support from friends but organising everything was very intense and I wasn’t able to think about it until a few years after.
MS: Did your family try to get you back?
MA: For a while they didn’t know where I was but after I got this job and it was advertised I’m at the University they had access to my details I started to get emails and calls as well.
MS: If I was to ask you, looking at your recent or your distant past, what is the one regret that you have?
MA: The one regret I have is that I didn’t say goodbye to my mum. I wish I’d hugged her more. I’d say I’m sorry I’m not coming back. I hope that she will actually forget me now but also I hope that she will forgive me as well. It’s very difficult and it took me a few years to accept it.
MS: In terms of your own life, what is your one hope going forward?
MA: I hope that my research will make a difference. I see myself as an activist too, trying to help people and be a voice for women in Saudi Arabia, and my hope is that what I’m doing and the sacrifice I have made will make a difference in a lot of people’s lives.