Tuesday, August 24, 2010

All in a Day's Work

"Tighter Measures Urged Against Runaway Laborers" reads the headline of a recent Arab News article. The article elaborates about how runaway construction workers in Saudi Arabia have become quite a problem in getting construction jobs finished. Legal construction workers here are generally paid about 50 Saudi Riyals (about $12.50 US) for a day's work, whereas illegal runaway construction workers can make about 200 SR per day (about $50 US). Most of the money earned by foreign laborers in Saudi Arabia is wired to the workers' homelands and is not spent in Saudi Arabia and therefore doesn't contribute to its economy. Saudi men generally would never work as hard laborers, even though many Saudi men are currently unemployed - but many jobs are considered beneath a Saudi man's status, so foreign workers by the millions are brought to the country to perform these menial tasks. All of these workers, including many foreign women workers hired as domestic help, must have a legal sponsor.

Historically, Saudi employers have a reputation for mistreating, underpaying, and overworking unskilled foreign workers. Working conditions for many foreign workers have often been described as modern day slavery and their living conditions can also be deplorable. And sadly, there is little, if any, legal recourse or government protection for mistreated workers. White collar professionals, on the other hand, are generally treated quite well and have a totally different experience compared to those unskilled laborers from poorer countries. But even among the professionals, there can be marked discrepancies in wages and treatment depending on what country an employee is from. A professional engineer from the USA, for example, might be hired at a much higher salary and with better fringe benefits when compared to maybe an Indian national with the same education and experience.

I can't really speak from my personal experience on this subject, and fortunately the minimal number of housemaids and drivers I have come in contact with appear to be happy in their positions and have been treated well. However I have received several emails imploring me to speak up about this topic.

Another recent news story pertaining to controversial employment issues in Saudi Arabia also prompted the writing of this post as well. Despite the King of Saudi Arabia recently banning the issuance of "fatwas" (religious rulings) by religious sheikhs without first getting approval from the King's advisory panel called the Shoura Council, it seems Saudi Arabia has its own religious maverick who is openly defying this order. Sheikh Al Ahmed has called for a boycott of the large and popular supermarket chain called HyperPanda for its new experimental initiative of hiring Saudi female cashiers. He has even claimed that it is a Western plot to destroy good Muslim morals. In Saudi Arabia, women are generally restricted to work in mainly the education and medical fields, with few exceptions. Now mind you, Sheikh Al Ahmed only has the welfare of the poor women in mind - he's concerned that women working as cashiers in a public supermarket puts them in harm's way because they will come in contact with horny men customers who are unable to control themselves. (Okay, so I put this into my own words, but this is basically the reason.) What I don't understand is: When Saudi men travel to other places around the world, they are expected to behave themselves and follow the laws of the country. But when they are in their own country, they are NOT expected to be able to control themselves around women or follow the laws of their own land? And in addition, as good Muslims, aren't they supposed to treat women with respect and dignity?

To HyperPanda's credit, an executive of the company blew off the Sheikh's threats and they plan to continue their new program. And by the way, HyperPanda has implemented certain conditions for the hiring of these women cashiers: they must be Saudi women aged 28 or older; they must be in financial need, be divorced or widowed; and they must dress according to a dress code. HyperPanda should be commended and supported for what they are doing!

You can read more about this subject: about Sheikh Al Ahmed's background and record on women's issues on Saudi Woman's blog post about it, and on Qusay's blog, an interesting article about the unique challenges facing Saudi Arabia's new Minister of Labor.

UPDATE: Extra! Extra! Read all about it! News Headline on 8/26/2010 - Saudi Cleric Slammed Over Fatwa on Women Cashiers


  1. LOL! Once again it's MEN and their horny behavior...
    As I have told before Saudi men go for example to Egypt and Qatar to party with hookers.
    Man is weak if he only thinks with his dick. Dot.

  2. The issues are a bit deeper than that Susie, I wrote a post about some of the challenges the new labor ministier will have to face and I invite you to read it



  3. I also have to wonder why men aren't expected to have some self-control. If men in the "sinful" west can keep from jumping on every passing woman that they find attractive, surely Saudi men can do the same.

    Saudi men, you're human beings, not dogs. A woman should be able to be out in public without fear of harrassment. If women are being harrassed in your country, YOU are to blame for not having an expectation of good behavior for the men.

  4. Susie, your Blog is very interesting!
    How can you "fell" anything towards a cashier lady, when you can hardly see her face?
    I hope you keep doing your weekly shopping at HyperPanda, just to support all those women working there. At the end of the day they are only trying to make a living and support their families.

  5. Seiously, we need to separate Saydi Arabia and Islam, because none of this says Islam, and Saudi Arabia is not the heart of Islam.

    The heart of the man or woman who practices restraint, humility and love is at the heart of Islam.

    I just ignore the ideas and thoughts that come from any place (country) that is *associated* with Islam...until it does Islam justice, and I am not holding my breath.

    Susie, iI am unsure what "unskilled" worker means these days. All the workers (highly skilled or not) contribute to building these ridiculously huge skyscrapers that these countries are showing off. If you want to show it off, build it yourself. I would respect someone who does his own work by his own hands.

    It's like me hiring someone to bake a cake and inviting everyone to see how great the cake looks and how delicious it tastes, catch my drift? I wouldn't even care to comment on that if the workers were treated with dignity.
    Money corrupts...but it won't last forever.

    As for BLOGitse's comment...men generally do not crap in their own backyards, no matter where they are from.

  6. Susie,

    thanks, as always, for your interesting posts. I'll bypass the whole sex/gender conundrum (which is exhaustively discussed, and really, I have no answers!) to note that it must take some extra work on HyperPanda's part to process all that paperwork. They must pay people to interview and follow up on potential hires, so it sounds like they're making an effort at supporting what I imagine to be a pretty marginalized group. So good job, folks! And thanks for your investigative efforts, Susie!

  7. Guess you don't qualify for this job. Yet sure glad to see someone step out.

  8. I never knew they were doing that! I was just in HyperPanda and didn't see any women working there....mayeb I came at the wrong time?

    But there's women working in Mall of Arabia (especially in the play area/arcade) so it's not a new thing over there.

  9. Congratulations to HyperPanda!!!!!

  10. Thanks for your comments.

    Qusay - I know I really simplified this down and it is much more complex, but Saudis can be so flexible about some things, but where women are concerned, it gets a bit frustrating. Thanks for the link to your article. I'll add it to my post.

    Vihreatniityt - HyperPanda has a beautiful store very close to where we live, and I always insist that we go there, even though my husband prefers to go to the smaller markets. I will definitely continue shopping there and promote them to all my friends as well.

  11. It is a shame that such extremists are allowed to make these decisions. It seems so wacked out, it's hard to fathom.

  12. I am LOVING this..

    I would also love it if women were employed in lingerie stores over there, too... Dont kno about you, but I always felt uncomfortable about having a man handle my little lacy bits..

  13. I congratulate Hyper- Panda for their effort in trying to get women into the workforce.I always shop there and make sure I use the family check out as to show them my support.I just hope they are there to stay as unfortunately this is still very much a men's society and they still want to control their women .I don't think it's a religious issue as some try to put it but purely control of men over women reenforced by strong cultural beliefs.

  14. This almost plays out like the illegal situation that has plagued the US especially in CA, AZ, NM and TX. Illegal immigrants work here and send most of their money to Mexico. And yes they are underpaid, overworked and not treated very well by their employers too. With the economy not getting much better, it’s hard for the citizens of a country to find a job.

  15. It is always most enlightening, these peeks into the bizarrity of Saudi life. I have to hand it to you Susie for staying. All the gold in the world could not get me to live in such a place for a single minute.

    ”they must be Saudi women aged 28 or older; they must be in financial need, be divorced or widowed; and they must dress according to a dress code. “

    Naturally! Women at 28 are “old” and not worth lusting after. Besides, putting them into a sack will keep the lechers at bay. (I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.)

    BLOGitse said... ”Man is weak if he only thinks with his dick. Dot.”

    It is a physiological fact that blood flows either to the brain or in the other direction to the single-minded appendage. Evidently, Saudi males don’t have much blood flowing to the thinking brain, given their lack of accomplishments.

    It is odd, however, that all men in all societies of the world can control themselves but Arabs, in particular Saudis, cannot.

    Sole Sister Salma said...
    ”Seiously, we need to separate Saydi Arabia and Islam, because none of this says Islam, and Saudi Arabia is not the heart of Islam.”

    Muhammad was well known for his sexual philandering with 66 women, so why not such entitlements for other Muslim males?

    According to Sirat Al-Halabi, Muhammad can have a woman no matter what, even against her will; and if Muhammad desired a married woman, her husband would have had to divorce her. According to Ibn Sa’ad, who wrote another authoritative biographical account of Muhammad, “The prophet did not die till all women were permitted him” (see Kitab Al Tabaqat Al Kubra, v.8, 194).

    According to the Qur’an (33:37), Allah made it legitimate for Muhammad to marry his own daughter-in-law, whom he lusted after:

    [33:37] Recall that you said to the one who was blessed by GOD, and blessed by you, "Keep your wife and reverence GOD," and you hid inside yourself what GOD wished to proclaim. Thus, you feared the people, when you were supposed to fear only GOD. When Zeid was completely through with his wife, we had you marry her, in order to establish the precedent that a man may marry the divorced wife of his adopted son. GOD's commands shall be done.

    In Qur’an 33:50, Allah made it legitimate for Muhammad to have sex with any woman who “offered” herself to him—a privilege which was allowed for Muhammad alone.

    [33:50] O prophet, we made lawful for you your wives to whom you have paid their due dowry, or what you already have, as granted to you by GOD. Also lawful for you in marriage are the daughters of your father's brothers, the daughters of your father's sisters, the daughters of your mother's brothers, the daughters of your mother's sisters, who have emigrated with you. Also, if a believing woman gave herself to the prophet - by forfeiting the dowry - the prophet may marry her without a dowry, if he so wishes. However, her forfeiting of the dowry applies only to the prophet, and not to the other believers. We have already decreed their rights in regard to their spouses or what they already have. This is to spare you any embarrassment. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.

    These “revelations” which granted Muhammad all his sexual desires were so frequent that his child-wife, Aisha, would often say to Muhammad:
    “My, your Lord is always quick to fulfill your desires!”

    To his faithful followers, Muhammad permitted all the infidel woman that they could capture, as concubines (Qur’an 4:3). 

    [4:3] If you deem it best for the orphans, you may marry their mothers - you may marry two, three, or four. If you fear lest you become unfair, then you shall be content with only one, or with what you already have. Additionally, you are thus more likely to avoid financial hardship.

    With such examples and sanctions from the holy Qur’an and the messenger, Muhammad, (peace by upon him) is it any wonder that Saudi/Muslim men feel entitled?

    Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings

  16. Susie - one suspects that the religious ‘shiekh’ wishes the women starved to death along with their dependents.
    One assumes that he and his rich fellow 'shiekhs' do not intend to give the any charity so the women must work.
    I have to say when I worked in Saudi 20 years ago I was astounded that on the streets of Dammam (or Al Khobar – old age makes one brain forget locations) women were deposited on street corners to sell inexpensive items by men who then drove away in a car .
    Did the ‘sheikh’ issue a fatwa about that ?? or perhaps not! as the difference is that the women on the street were just that – on the street and would remain in the gutter as long as the ‘sheikh’ and his ilk treats them in such an appaling manner; while the women in Panda, I suspect, will at some stage (god willing ) be promoted and better themselves, through their own toil and skill (and Panda’s support - who will be helped by kind people like you Susie)
    Oh and here are a couple of interesting cases
    perhaps it’s the same family – or certainly people against whom the ‘sheikh’ dosnt issue fatwas for degrading treatment of helpless females , as he busies himself doing every thing he can to ensure that helpless female Saudis remain helpless and poverty stricken

  17. While it sounds good in theory...as someone who has lived in Saudi...I can attest to the fact that most local men act stupid when there are any women in thier vicinty, they stalk them, act creepy, say things, they just get crazy and nasty. No matter how covered you are, they have no respect or morals (ofcourse not ALL, but it seems its more like this than not. Allahu alim)...so best of luck to those women...

    hmm... why doesnt that Sheikh and those other similar types mention the skeezy behavior of their menfolk in their own country instead of incessently focusing on women as "the problem"...it basically just gives men a "free ride" to misbehave left and right.

  18. Salaam Susie,

    It's me Aalia from Chasing Jannah and I just wanna say my greetings to you and your family, may God protect you all :-)

    Keep in touch <3

  19. I've visited the HyperPanda department store in Dubai. It's certainly a strange name for a store. one that's not forgotten easily.

  20. You touched on a topic, not many talk about openly. Appreciated!

    (Austin, TX | Jeddah, KSA)