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Thanks to Workplace Segregation, Saudi Women Are Getting Their Very Own ‘Cities’ to Work In

Illustration for article titled Thanks to Workplace Segregation, Saudi Women Are Getting Their Very Own ‘Cities’ to Work In

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.

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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.

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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.

Saudi Arabia plans new city for women workers only [Guardian]

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DISCUSSION

Has anyone seen the "No Reservations" episode where Anthony Bourdain went to Saudi Arabia on the invitation of a woman there? I don't remember the woman's name— but she wanted Bourdain to see S.A. from a citizen's perspective. One of the most interesting parts of the episode occurred when they went to a fast food chain and there were separate sides for "men" and "families." Bourdain asked her if she found this practice offensive or if she wanted to be on the men's side. I found her response really interesting— it mostly conveyed that the separation was more for the families' benefit so that they wouldn't need to be around single, unattached men. There were men in the family section, but they were connected to women and children. It almost seemed like the men were the ones at a disadvantage because they were being separated out from the general population— cloistered for their "maleness" or inability to control themselves. I am not an S.A. apologist— not in the least bit— but I just find this aspect of the culture fascinating. If building a female- only work zone will give more women access to work, I support the effort. The belief that males can't control themselves from their base impulses seems to be a pillar of their society and beliefs, so I can see how that might inhibit a woman's access to a career. If special female areas will help and sidestep that problem, I think it is extremely modern for them to even consider building them. Before watching the "No Reservations" episode, I always thought that the Muslim restrictions on females was due to their belief that the women were lesser beings— I never considered the fact that they believed men to be unable to control themselves. Somehow this difference makes a big difference for me and the way I view Muslim culture.