Jeddah, Jeddah, Jeddah

  • The King has received the board of directors of Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The JCCI delegation included 3 women. National newspapers made sure to show that in the pictures. During the reception, Saleh Kamel, chairman of JCCI, promised the King to create jobs for new university graduates. Last week, an official from the minister of labor said there are 200,000 unemployed Saudi women; 78% of those women hold a college degree. The official described this as a “sad matter.”
  • File this under good news for transparency and fighting corruption. Saudi Gazette says, “As the Control and Investigation Board (CIB) begins Saturday its investigations into the case files of over 70 persons facing charges related to the Jeddah flood disaster of November 2009, sources told Okaz that the accused would be put on trial publicly. Construction contractors found guilty may also be liable to pay blood money.”

MOE hiring process, al-Nujaimi mingling saga

  • The Ministry of Education (MOE) is hiring. Out of the 34,000 people who applied for teaching jobs, only 21,000 managed to score more than 50% in the Qiyas test aka the Saudi SAT. Today, those 21,000 candidates were interviewed by MOE in order to “inspect their ideological tendencies.” What MOE means by the words between quote marks is actually this: make sure those teachers-to-be are not extremists who will spread their poison in schools and produce future terrorists. Sounds like a good idea, right? Not really. I mean, can’t those extremists conceal their extremism for a brief interview just to get the job? Can’t they pretend to be tree-hugging, peace-loving, dialogue-embracing, upstanding citizens for the duration of a short encounter with their potential employers?
  • Shiekh Mohammed al-Nujaimi, who once described segregation as one of the fundamentals on which the Saudi state was built and then took a U-turn after al-Shethri fiasco, was recently rumored to be mingling big time with unrelated women during a conference in Kuwait. Interestingly (or maybe not) al-Nujaimi has praised the infamous al-Barrak’s fatwa in which he called for opponents of the kingdom’s strict segregation of men and women to be put to death if they refuse to abandon their ideas. After pictures and videos of his mingling made their way to the web, he first denied what the pictures and videos suggested, and said some of them were photoshopped, which is something the organizers of the event considered so insulting that they threatened to sue him.

    Today, al-Nujaimi finally admitted that he mingled, but he said he did it for all the right reasons: to prevent vice and help those misguided women find the righteous path. This should go well with those women, I guess.

Double-team for Women’s Employment

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.

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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.