Segregation or Regulation?

Although I have tried to register to participate at the 7th National Dialogue, I never received to a response from the organizers and therefore I have had to watch the dialogue on television.

This round of the National Dialogue, which took place earlier this week, focused on the dilemma of employment from different angles. The hottest topic, of course, was women’s employment. Now almost everyone agrees that we need to create more job opportunities for women; the disagreement, however, arises when it comes to how to approach and address this problem. More specifically, the disagreement is over how to define the proper work environment for women.

Two trends can be seen here. First, there are those who believe that in order to encourage more women to join the workforce we have to provide separate workplaces for them. They cite the example of the education sector, the field where 85% of working women in the country are in, and argue that the government should push in that direction.

However, I believe these guys are ignoring two important things: the fact that following education, the second field where most women are employed is the healthcare sector which is not segregated, and also the fact that many women chose to work at the education sector simply for the lack of other options, even if that choice means sometimes working in remote areas and being away from their families and putting themselves in danger of lethal car accidents.

The other trend regarding women’s employment in the dialogue argue that strict interpretations of religion and old social norms have only halted the development of the country and slowed down the growth of our economy. The insistence on providing separate work places for women, they say, is costly and impractical as it makes it difficult to keep a smooth workflow. Moreover, even if the government decided to go with that option, they won’t be able to force business to do the same.

Instead of separate workplaces, what they propose instead is writing new laws and regulation to create and maintain safe work environments that give equal opportunities and protect employees, especially women.

I expect this debate to continue, and I think we need to wait and see which argument of these two will attract more followers and prevail, or probably we will have to make some compromises and end up with a third way and a middle ground. The economic factor will be decisive here because, as one participant pointed out, the ever increasing living costs will mean that the one salary (currently the man’s) will no longer be enough to support a family.

I agree with Fatin Bundagji when she says that the idea of the national dialogue, even if it did not amount to obvious immediate results, is a good idea. And even though I was not invited to attend the dialogue at Makarem Ballroom in the Marriott, it was certainly refreshing for me to follow it and see my countrymen and women debate and take part in this conversation, which signifies, among many things, a change in mindset and a newfound respect for diversity, as well as a better understanding between the different faction in our society.

21 thoughts on “Segregation or Regulation?

  1. Why should the question of segregated workplaces for women be discussed before the question of women-must-be-accompanied-by-a-male-guardian issue? If this issue is modified, the women-in-workplace discussion will become useless.

  2. salam,
    islam clearly mentions that there SHUD be segregation in the workplace so even if there r increased opportunities for women most will refrain from working coz of the religion issue

  3. The male guardianship issue is not really a factor in the private sector. There are plenty of Saudi women working for private business where gender segregation rules are relaxed. While private industry attempts to follow the model established by the government, many companies determine segregation on their own terms. So at least with some – or even many – private companies, segregation rules don’t always apply and therefore should not be a hindrance to finding employment. Also keep in mind that some companies that deal directly with the public, Gazzaz in Jeddah for example, have female employees that work separately from male employees serve, but both men and women customers at their department stores

  4. No woman that works in this country does so with her guardian at her side. She does need his permission to work, but he isn’t w/ her physically every step of the way.

    Mr. Man employs women and at times it is very difficult. To employ one female secretary in an office full of men (even with her husband employed at the same office) with her area being the front reception, building a bathroom only for her and other regulations they needed to meet. One inspector walked in and decided that wasn’t enough, she needed to be totally cut off from everyone which was rediculous considering her duties.

    Even for private companies wanting to hire more Saudi women (less dependence in the office on foriegn male employees and better job performance) one voice is all that is needed to put hardships on the company. Even when private companies may go more out of their way to ensure women are not harassed (0 tolerance with Mr. Man). Even with selecting to hire only married, widowed or divorced women with children (easier to justify to the ministry) one voice is all that is needed to raise objections to a woman working.

    Regulations, which are workable for all, need to be set. Total segregation is rediculous to expect, nor is it religious (I go out every day in unsegregated shopping malls and have interaction with men, somehow that is ok but me working would be haram, give me a break). It would be better for this society as a whole, to actually learn how to interact with the opposite gender appropriately which can be than practiced outside of the office as well. But the fact that only one voice is needed to prevent women from being employed in the private sector is something that needs to be changed, and quickly in order for more women to be employed.

  5. When it comes to employeeing Saudis, the question should be asked without looking to the gender!. We should look to the right capable candidate then find out the details. From my point of view, it is not right to focus so much into why females are not finding opportunities. It is a falid concerns that needs to be tackeled. But the more rooted issue is that there are less qualified Saudis that what the companies need.

  6. nzingha and abujoori
    nzingha ,the economic system and social view that ur presentin is the view applied to the world.As again i must say that all of us today might aspire to establish the american dream or other so called”dreams” in the world as we see them as a success story : which might be a valid point of view as america,s economy is worth somethin like 13 trillion dollars which is huge and enviable……..but the point is not this….that economic model and social view is still plagued by problems which we dont observe or c as it is the most successful …..secondly that model is as i must say only “human”…..we r muslims and we must think like muslims…we must try to act wholly ,fairly under islam and c wat happens…….one thing is guaranteed that success will be in ur way……….because this system is divine ,its not by a human….its by a being who knows ur inner most desires……so wat if someone sets up a whole wall just for a secretary to work that would be more right and it will have more baraka…………..i donot advocate this though……..there r other ways to deal with this……for example veiled secretaries with hijab r allowed and they can stay there and it could be assured that she doesnt stay with a man alone ……so these things can ge taken care of in this model ……..we shud not adopt other models as we must believe through logic and wisdom that we have a divine model.
    plz c the above link

  7. As for abujoori
    well i agree wid u that jobs shud be offered on merit and not on issues related to feminism and masculism.Saudi education needs to be revamped though…..this system lacks the “freedom of thought” and a system shud be made which enables its students to develop that very important skill.

  8. Dear Ahmad!
    I would like to know more about women’s opinion on this issue. Do they agree or not? Well! as you know, women themselves are the real obstacles towards a modern society.

  9. hey we have similar issues in israel with ultra orthodox women.. a minority but nonetheless sizeable chunk of society..

    industry has banded together with the government quite well and through an incentive scheme been able to effectively create incubators for roles that address their sensitivties and religious needs..

    its very impressive..

  10. Salam alaikum wr wb

    For sutta

    I am a European and converted to islam 2 years ago. I totally agree with sutta, not because I am an expert on sociology, politics or economy, but because i experienced it in my own life. You can say that I have never lived in Saudi and that is true. I was there for only one week in Ramadan. But the thing is that in the so called, developed countries of the west, the States included, the morals, the happiness of the people and in generally other things save material issues have never been so low (at least it feels like that living there). So the so called American dream brought nothing but emptiness inside and meaningless lives. Anybody who is muslim and lived among westerners who are not can feel this, I have a lot of friends to support this opinion of mine, based on their own experiences. So I think that the question is about how we interpret the islamic teachings and we should not have any doubt that the system created by Allah is the only perfect one. Why would we opt for less than perfect when we already have the keys of it?

    Thanks for the opportunity.

  11. AishafromtheWest:

    I was born and raised a Muslim in the United States and I have lived in Bosnia (it was still part of Yugoslavia at the time) for one year when I was 14 years old.

    Women worked in both societies and possibly even more women of my mother’s generation worked in Bosnia than women in the United States. Still, I saw nothing of the sort of a demise in morals or living empty, meaningless lives in Bosnia and I’d go as far to say that they lived the ultimate, family oriented, fullfilling life – and I wouldn’t go so far to categorize America as being that which you claim.

    There has been a demise in the nuclear family in the United States over the past few decades and this has been the cause of many problems. When I say nuclear family – I am referring to mother, father, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles .. etc. Let me refer back to Bosnia for a moment – in Bosnia, often children would marry and either move within walking distance of their own parents or often move in with the parents. It was common for one household to have two sons and their wives, children and the grandparents all living under one roof. Often times, sons would have homes built for them on the land of their childhood home before they reached the age of 18. What tended to happen in Bosnia was that children were never left unattended, left to daycare, left to hired babysitters – they were left with people who would treat them as if they were their own child (grandparents, aunts, uncles). Additionally, their was a certain advantage to this system when it came down to morals and values and that being that children were raised with the values and morals that the parents were raising within them but they were instilled morals and values that their grandparents believed in. The children were as attached to (and sometimes more) to the grandparents that disappointing or displeasing a grandparent was as bad or sometimes worse to the child than displeasing the parents.

    Now, if the increasing cost of living is going to make it a necessity for women in SA to start working – their working is going to have to become facilitated. If an atmosphere is going to be created where husbands and wives are going to be forced to move to areas where the wife can work and (I’m assuming that SA has a similar nuclear family network such as I’ve described amongst Bosnians) that forces them to leave the area of the extended family, forces them to leave their children in the hands of daycare, forces them to still have to spend much time in getting to and from work you’re going to quickly see overburdened, over stressed families and you’ll quickly see the deterioration in the behavior of the children.

    It seems to me that the reality of the situation needs to be addressed and we have to start looking at whether or not some of the “customs” that not only people in SA but many Muslim throughout the world, including the US insist are Islamic are indeed Islamic. “The Quran is for all time”.

    Additionally, I have and do work here in the US and I have always been treated with respect by male colleagues. If ever I was treated in a deragatory manner I could and would file a harrasment suit.

    As long as Muslim women believe that they have to stay out of the sight of men in order for men to control their thoughts and actions we are doing them and ourselves a disservice. This is along the same lines as a rape victim feeling that the rape was her fault. It is the responsiblity of every man to take responsibilty for his own thoughts and actions in whatever situation he may find himself in – not ours. Think about it.

    I’m also reminded of my mother’s stories of her trip to hajj. Even though her hair was covered and she dressed in abaya – she said she had never felt so disrespected, so objectified by men in her life. She had one man offer to be her slave (and we’re talking perverse here), she had other men follow her and approach her to go back to their homes as she made a ten minute attempt to shop. Is this acceptable behavior? Is this behavior the fault of women? Is it possible that we’ve facilitated this behavior in some way? Is this really what a system created by Allah should look like?

  12. saudia arabia is the closest u get to an islamic society in the present world………….it is not the ideal society…………….they r huge loopholes in the saudi society which need to be addressed and taken care of as mentioned in ur comment……….so dont blame ALLAH here but blame urself………..if we would practice perfectly then nothin will go wrong inshalah

  13. “so dont blame ALLAH here but blame urself………..if we would practice perfectly then nothin will go wrong inshalah”

    That’s my point – this isn’t Allah’s will, this is man’s will. What is practicing perfectly anyway? We can’t possibly know that .. all we can do is try to achieve it but changes aren’t going to happen unless we humans want them to happen and make them happen.

  14. practicin perfectly means followin the exact , or at most watever is possible, social ,economic and political models presented by islam from the view of the ruler…………..for us as indivisduals we can follow the snnah and in it we have to change ouselves first…..

  15. “followin the exact , or at most watever is possible, social ,economic and political models presented by islam from the view of the ruler”

    well, you have in both SA and Iran rulers which claim “this is Islam” – whatever their views are. unfortunately, you have some of the most oppressive and inhumane practices in both of these nations. women being punished for being raped (and men, as well, although this doesn’t seem to gain as much attention and it should). you have forced divorces. you have inequality. you have forced dress codes. you have censorship. freedom of religion is restricted.

    “for us as indivisduals we can follow the snnah and in it we have to change ouselves first”

    we can do all of that as much as we want and yes we have to strengthen our deen that is our obligation but it is also our obligation to Allah, as individuals, to protect Islam.

    “[4.135] O you who beljeve! be maintainers of justice, bearers of witness of Allah’s sake, though it may be against your own selves or (your) parents or near relatives; if he be rich or poor, Allah is nearer to them both in compassion; therefore do not follow (your) low desires, lest you deviate; and if you swerve or turn aside, then surely Allah is aware of what you do.”

    As we’ve seen time and time again, within the Quran – rulers and leaders have often lead their societies astray and those followers will still be held accountable. So we can not just accept everything – we are required to question, to gain knowledge, to use reason and logic and we need to use those things if anything is going to change.

  16. Religion is a human construct. The only truth is gratitude, compassion and loving-kindness. Women have wants, desires, dreams and ideas just like men. Of course there are differences between the sexes, but those differences can generally complement each other. How can anyone say that they are living truthfully and compassionately when they believe women should be covered up, shut off from society, and treated like 2nd class citizens?

  17. iran and saudia do have the most islamic society but it isnt the ideal society or the way it shud bee……….women being punished for being raped……….yeah thats a new one…………but u have to know the specific case….. i personally havent heard anythin related to that………forced divorces……….well thats a saudi tradition nothin related to islam………….so really we shud practice islam when dealin with divorces…….forced dress codes…..u mean abaya ,hijab and stuff……..well tahts pretty much islamic no contradiction over here…………….censorship and freedom of religion is not a problem related to islam……………its a problem related to the royal family………….so the government actually isnt practicin islam fully if it does then im sure this society will improve……..salaamz

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