Saudi Arabia is so committed to its policy of segregating the genders that it is going to build an entire city just for women to work in all by themselves. The women-only industrial city, to be built within the Eastern Province city of Hofuf, is just the first of what could be many zones that the Gulf kingdom aims to create in order to maintain gender segregation while still getting the maximum level of production out of its educated female population, 65 percent of which would like very much to achieve financial independence through their careers.
With the construction of the first such industrial city within a city, Saudi Arabia might be able to have its segregationist cake and eat it, too. Under Wahabi sharia law and tribal customs, segregation of the sexes keeps women from driving cars and, on the whole, from entering the workplace with men. Saudi women reportedly make up only 15 percent of the workforce, most them working in women-only workplaces and only a very few in gender-mixed workplaces.
The Hofuf industrial zone, however, comes as part of a government initiative to create more jobs for women, thereby allowing them to have a larger role in Saudi Arabia's economic development. The Hofuf project, which was sponsored by a group of Saudi businesswomen and has been approved by Prince Mansour bin Miteb bin Abdulaziz, minister of municipal and rural affairs, is expected to generate some 5,000 jobs in textiles, pharmaceuticals and food-processing industries, with women-run firms and production lines. According to sponsoring businesswoman Hussa al-Aun, Hofuf will also boast a training facility to "help women develop their talents," which will be instrumental in cutting unemployment among female graduates.
Saudi Arabia has a huge gap in employment between men and women, at 23 percent. Contrary to the kingdom's workforce regulations, some companies and firms have recently been insisting that women be unmarried and childless to qualify for employment, requirements, says ministry spokesman Hatab al-Anazi, that are "against the regulations approved by the ministry." King Abdullah has also made it clear that women will play a more active role in Saudi Arabia's political future, assuring women that they will be able to vote in the 2015 local elections, as well as for consultative assembly.
The government probably senses that the tide is turning — there are an awful lot of educated women milling around in Saudi Arabia, women who want to take control of their own lives by applying their education to the workforce. In addition to the 65 percent of women seeking greater financial independence through work, a majority of women under 25 want to make use of their educational qualifications, rather than just watching their degrees languish while men fumble through the workday all on their own. Everyone should have the right to fall into the daily grind, because only then can all people truly appreciate how awesome it will be when robots do all our work for us.