In my post last February on women’s employment I asked if whether we were moving towards more regulation or more segregation. According to a directive issued last week by Prince Khaled al-Faisal, Governor of Mecca, I guess regulation it is.
The directive, which was published in local media last Wednesday, is based on a letter sent by Labor Minister Ghazi al-Gosaibi who emphasized that the new labor law has deleted the clause banning women from working in mixed workplaces, and replaced it with a new clause that applies to both genders stating that “both the employer and employee must adhere to the law in conformity with Sharia.”
Now this last statement may sound vague and ill-defined, but it is still worthy of attention because the letter also affirmed that the Ministry of Labor is the government’s body responsible for regulating women’s working and that any involvement by other government’s bodies is unacceptable, in what seems to be a hint to the Commission and their sympathizers who keep nosing into these issues.
However, and as we have previously seen many times in the magic kingdom, writing laws is one thing and implementing them is quite another, especially when you don’t have an elected parliament to monitor the performance of government and question them when they fail to achieve their announced goals.
It was Ghazi al-Gosaibi who has tried three years ago to make working in women’s shops limited to Saudi women before he had to back down after fierce opposition by conservatives. What is different this time, though, is that he is not fighting alone. The support of Khaled al-Faisal, a figure many conservatives hate as much as they hate al-Gosaibi, could be the push the government need to put the laws in effect. It remains to be seen how crucial is this support will be.
UPDATE: In his column in Al Hayat today Abdul-Aziz al-Suwaid makes a good point about the vagueness of the law, asking MOL to define clear guidelines to protect women should they come under harassment. I totally agree.