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Saudi’s struggle with working women
Saudi has promised to provide thousands of women jobs in the industrial sector, even as hardliners in the kingdom call for a ban on Saudi women appearing in the media.
April 2, 2009 11:53 by Aarti Nagraj
The Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) has launched a scheme to employ thousands of women in industrial establishments across the city, reports Arab News. “More than 25 factories have come forward in the initial stage of the scheme. A total of 56 industries will offer jobs for women,” said Ulfat Qabbani, JCCI’s board member and chairperson of the Jeddah Council for Social Responsibility. She also said that about 700 factories will participate in the second phase of the scheme.
“All arrangements have been made to train and prepare young Saudi women to work in various industrial firms. Industries related to the manufacture of medicine, perfumes, food, garments and home appliances are some of the areas suitable for women. They can also work in administrative and logistics sections in most other industries,” she told the paper.
According to the JCCI secretary-general, only two percent of Saudi women are currently working in the industrial sector, as compared to about 20 percent in the education and health sectors.
This follows a statement from the kingdom’s deputy labor minister Abdul Wahid Al Humaid that the unemployment rate among Saudi women increased by two percent from around 25 percent in February 2008 to around 27 percent in August 2008.
The rising unemployment among women was because of traditional customs that discourage women from joining the workforce, Al Humaid told the Saudi Press Agency earlier this week, adding that several unemployed women were highly qualified with 78.3 percent of them being university graduates. “The private sector finds it difficult to employ women under the present social circumstances,” he said.
Recently, Saudi clerics also asked the government to ban women from appearing on television and to prohibit their images in print media, reported the AFP. In a letter to the Information Minister Abdul Aziz al-Khoja, 35 clerics said that there was an alleged plan to “westernize” Saudi women by “reducing their rights to a question of removing veils, wearing makeup and mixing with men.”
“There should be no Saudi woman on television, in any case,” they said, adding that “There is no doubt that this is religiously impermissible.”
The current news also comes in the backdrop of the lingerie shop boycott by women in the kingdom, demanding the replacement of salesmen with sales women in these shops. The Saudi government passed a law in 2006 decreeing that only women should be employed in shops that sell women’s items; however, the law has yet to be implemented.
Can Saudi battle with its conventional limits and give its women the freedom to work? Will women succeed in breaking the social and cultural barriers holding them back, or will they be forced to work within them?