Friday, February 1, 2013

A Whole New Spin on "WALL-MART"

I really try my best to present a balanced view of Saudi Arabia, but there are certain times when some issues just drive me batty.  Gender segregation here is taken to such an extreme here that it tends to create many more problems than those they are trying to resolve - not to mention making Saudi Arabia look like an absurdly backward place where men are not held accountable for their actions, and the blame and punishment is usually aimed at women.  Weddings are segregated affairs, restaurants have separate entrances and dining areas for families and single men, even many private family gatherings I've attended have been segregated.

At a local mall event, notice how the men and women are mostly segregated, left and right.

The latest edict regarding gender segregation comes from the Minister of Labor Adel Faqieh, who has been seen in the past as a rather progressive guy because of his support of women in the workplace.  But now from the Saudi labor department there is a new order that requires the building of 1.6 meter high walls inside businesses to separate working men and women.  Yeah – you heard that right.  Now keep in mind that these working Saudi women are already completely draped in black cloaks, hair completely covered, and many also wear veils over their faces.  

Is this way of dress alone not enough of a barrier?

When I first moved to Saudi Arabia five years ago, there were no women working in sales positions in stores or malls - because they weren't allowed to.  In fact most women in the kingdom were restricted to working in female only educational facilities or in the medical field, where mostly foreign women have been permitted to work as nurses or lab techs side by side with men.   Saudi women in medicine generally are doctors or researchers.

Nowadays Saudi women work in lingerie shops.  Men can only enter these shops when accompanied by female family members.

It was bad enough – and downright creepy - that women here in Saudi Arabia were forced until recently to purchase their undies from men, when the women organized and demanded that women be put in these types of sales positions, including lingerie and cosmetics shops.   Their voices were heard and the King ordered that these salesmen be replaced with women.  It was a huge victory for women in Saudi Arabia.  This eventually led to women being employed in supermarkets, department stores, and women’s clothing shops. 

Saudi female cashiers in the supermarket chain HyperPanda here in Jeddah

Shopping here in Saudi Arabia - at grocery stores, malls, and even small shops - has always been mixed and has never been gender segregated.  As a friend of mine pointed out recently, this "problem" that exists now seems to stem from the fact that women are the ones earning the money instead of just spending it.   It was always okay here when men were the workers and women were the customers, but now that women are working in fields that were formerly dominated by men, the religious bigwigs are suddenly having tizzy fits.  

Why is it okay for this type of gender interaction, but not when the female is the one behind the counter?
In a group discussion about this new development to prevent gender mixing in the workplace, one participant said:  For a country with such high religiosity, it appears that the Saudi adult citizens cannot be trusted to behave with morals and manners in the most basic social and community settings.  I call this a RED FLAG ... Obviously something is desperately wrong. When people are raised with such strict religious laws, norms / values and the government's actions repeatedly imply that Saudi citizens lack basic self-control and are not capable of social interaction with the opposite sex for fear of combustible consensual sexual intercourse, molestation, or rape ... Where else in the world does such a problem exist? Seriously! What is taking place in Saudi society and its institutions that would cause the Saudi government to assume that its citizens' behaviors are so spiritually bankrupt?

Is it better for Saudi women to just beg instead of working a real job?
So exactly what has prompted this move from the Ministry of Labor?  Since women began working in other venues a few short years ago, I would ask - have there been incidents or problems with working women being harassed or complaints about men they work with?  None that I am aware of have been reported in the news, although one article I read vaguely hinted that there have been complaints, but nothing specific.  

Or does it perhaps have to do with the deadly threats from 200 members of the country’s religious police force causing a ruckus in late December 2012, whereby these “Men of God” told the Minister of Labor that if he didn’t do something to stop Saudi women from mixing with men in the workplace that they would pray that Faqieh gets cancer and dies?  Nice, huh?  Especially sweet coming from "Men of God."
I think I have a much better and easier solution.  Why not give the men in Saudi Arabia a chance to prove that they can behave themselves around women in the workplace?  And if they can’t manage to do that, then just FIRE THEIR ASSES!!!  

Child molester, torturer and murderer Sheikh Fayhan Al Ghamdi
I'm getting off topic here now, but what I really want to know is:  why aren’t these religious guys (who are so concerned with protecting morality and female virginity) focusing on more important things that pertain to women and children here?  For example, why aren’t they totally unhinged about the recent ruling in the case of the Islamic preacher, Sheikh Fayhan AlGhamdi?  Al Ghamdi brutally raped and tortured his own five year old daughter in December of 2011.  She remained in a coma in the hospital and finally succumbed to her horrendous injuries some 10 months later, in October 2012.  

The judge in the case has recently ruled that the few months Al Ghamdi spent in jail was enough and all he has to do now is pay the family of the victim “blood money.”  Here in Saudi Arabia, the so-called "justice system" in place is along the lines of “an eye for an eye” and provides for financial compensation paid to the heirs of the victim.  In this case, the girl’s family or heirs would include her own father who heinously killed her.  However, the paying of blood money should only apply when the killing was unintentional.  It was obvious that the injuries suffered by this poor girl were not an accident. 

So why isn’t the religious establishment here in Saudi Arabia demanding Al Ghamdi’s head on a platter instead of concerning themselves with such trivial matters as building barriers to separate men and women in the workplace?   I don’t get it.

For more reading on these subjects: 

From Saudi Woman, Eman Al Nafjan:  Rest in peace, Lama


  1. I can just see the hair standing up on the back of your neck now. How long are you expected to stay in a country where people are mistreated on a regular basis? I would be so out of there. The hardest thing for me to understand is why people put up with that crap... Do any leave the country, or do they get thrown in jail for trying? From the outside looking in, it appears that the men have no respect for women period. I can't imagine how frustrated you must be.

    1. Hi Lori - I have a pretty good life here, although restricted by lack of mobility - but my husband does try to get things done for me. If I can help in any way by bringing to light what I see as problems and try to change the logic or mindset, then I feel it is my duty to do that. So I feel I have a purpose here. Saudis are very tied to their families and culture, and yes, their country. Some have left for good. Others, like my husband who left for 30 years, have returned. I can assure you that many Saudi men highly respect women and treat them well. Unfortunately the ones who make the news are the nutjobs...

  2. If they are serious about implementing is just so extreme and there are no words for it. I am so disappointed in ksa right now. They have no idea the type of damage they are doing to their own people by letting these religious nut jobs call the shots. Its unbelievable!!

    1. Hi Amal - It IS very disappointing. The thing is, I think we all know - including the Saudis - the damage that is being done to the image Saudi Arabia has to the rest of the world. As long as the stubborn religious nutjobs don't care about this image, it is hopeless - and they will continue on with their own agenda, however damaging to Saudis it may be.

  3. the question is why those regulations and separations only occur in the kingdom not in any other country in the world except may be Afghanistan , i mean do Saudi think the way they practice religion is the right way and those in other Islamic countries are wrong and misguided even in other islamic countries women allowed to drive cars and work

  4. Susie, is there an outcry against this in the Saudi media, or only on blogs? If anything, I hope Lama's death and suffering will not be in vain, but to shed light on those 'outwardly pious' religious folks, but when in private commit horrid acts. Bring back NIYAH, and let that be consistent with what you say and how you behave when no one is looking.

  5. I wholeheartedly agree with you, Susie. Maybe the wall needs to go around the religious men who propose these silly laws. Hmmm - perhaps a monastery would be a great place for them - with no women allowed.

  6. One thing I'm not understanding is how the US is allies with Saudi Arabia when the treatment of women is so horrible it sounds to me like the Taliban in Afganistan.

  7. Kristine to answer your question there is a hash tag created by Manal Al Sherif "I am Lama" to campaign about her case and to appeal the verdict.
    I have not seen any other outcry, at least not yet.

    Where are all the scholars and sheikhs and bearded men (excuse my language I'm really upset)now? Why are they not OUTRAGED???

    What about Al Arifi? He has 3 million followers on Twitter, he could have effect if he wants to..then again he said once that teenage daughters should cover up at home in front of their fathers..

    I propose sending these idiots to an isolated island with no women living on it and let the rest of the world live a normal, healthy life without their perverted ideas.

    I am so mad today, can you tell? I'm on a ROLL!!

  8. Because it was never about the protection or respect of women or children. It is just away to control them. When women and children have no voice in the public nor a face then you just become a thing which can be used. This is what this society does to both and it does it frequently.

    As usual religion is just the tool to assist them in their goals.

  9. Such an infuriating and backward country, it is simply mind-boggling! How on earth can this still be possible in this day and age?! I really hope that this type of people realize one day just how wrong and ridiculous this mentality is. They should be ashamed. Every time I read something about Saudi Arabia, it makes my blood boil!

  10. Sometimes i'm wondering if SA is on planet earth! sorry to be blunt but it's a backward country that with its money right now it's exporting it's sick values (eg wahabism) all around the world )just thinks of what happened in Timbuctu when was under the so called rule of wahabiti relebels (mutilation, historical sites destroyed only because it's wasn't according their creed).

    When i read news like the islamic preacher i'm wondering why none in SA moves a finger to prevent this absurb so called justice.

    I think you are very brave to live in such country where there's no freedom.

    you said that many men respect women but why they don't do anything to prevent things like the slaying of the poor girl or protect the thousand of maids that everyday are harrased in SA or maybe the respect only SA WOMEN?

  11. Oh, that poor poor five-year-old! The mind boggles about such a skewed view of women.

  12. I find it hypocritical that Men are allowed to work side by side with foreign women but not saudi women. I am muslim and I find the cultural practices of saudi arbia appalling. Its ironic that with all the strict segregation laws Saudi Men spend a large amount of time watching porn. It seems this country thrives on power and control and bend over backwards finding ways to oppress saudi women.

  13. I read this post and I literally don't know what to say besides that something is totally wrong.