According to a report in the UAE’s Gulf News, the number of Saudi women employed in the private sector has doubled over the past year to reach 400K. This is explosive growth compared to the 48K figure that pertained in 2009 and a ten-fold increase since 2004.

Various measures have led to this result including increased salaries for teachers and the banning of male employees in lingerie shops. There’s still a lot of work to be done to increase the number of Saudis in jobs, both male and female, but this is an impressive mark.

Number of Saudi women employed in private sector doubles
Habib Toumi – Bureau Chief

Manama: The number of Saudi women employed in the private sector almost doubled in one year to reach 400,000 last year, an official report has indicated.

The meteoric rise from 48,406 women in 2009 to 100,000 in 2011 and 200,000 in 2012 is a clear indication of the success of the ambitious drive by the authorities to find employment opportunities for women in the conservative society that has strongly resisted allowing women to take up jobs in the private sector.

According to the report prepared by the labour ministry, the opening up of opportunities for women to work in the industrial and commercial sectors, as well in shops, has contributed massively to the high employment figures, local daily Al Eqtisadiya reported on Monday.

July:26:2014 - 07:17 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Back before the last round of Municipal Elections in 2011, Saudi women were told that they would be able to take part in the elections. Then it was discovered that it would not be possible to set up women-safe voting environments in time, so the women were told, “Sorry!”

Now, with the next round of elections coming in 2015, the government is once again assuring women that they’ll be taking part. The government and municipalities have certainly had time to address the issues that preventing participation. We need only wait to see if some other reason pops up at the last minute that will again thwart women’s playing their political role.

Given that women are now sitting on the Shoura Council and that women’s roles in Saudi life have been expanding, I think there’s every reason to believe that their voting will happen. We’ll have to wait a while to see. Arab News reports…

Women to take part in municipal polls

The Council of Ministers has approved legislation that would allow Saudi women to vote and stand as candidates in upcoming municipal council elections.

Women were not allowed to participate in the 2011 elections but Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques had ordered shortly before the polls that they should be allowed to do so from the 2015 elections onwards.

The law allows councils to approve and implement municipal plans and programs approved in the budget. They would also oversee maintenance, operating, development and investment projects, the law states.

July:24:2014 - 07:56 | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

I note that I’ve been writing Crossroads Arabia for ten years now. I actually started in May, 2004, but by July had settled into this format and platform.

A lot has gone on over these ten years. A new King in Saudi Arabia, increased attacks on Saudi Arabia by Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda related groups as well as the effective Saudi counter-offensive. Reforms in social policies, in the legal system, and in lightening the hand that seeks to control women have all taken place. Saudi women have taken part in the international Olympics. New laws and regulations have been adopted that have bettered the working conditions of foreign workers while others have served to chase many of those workers out of the Kingdom to be replaced by Saudi workers.

Saudi Arabia remains a work in progress and I look forward to recording that progress over the coming years.

July:11:2014 - 08:23 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

The Saudi government is now ready to set closing times for businesses across the Kingdom. A commission established to address the issue has come up with regulations that would see most shops close at 9:00PM. During Ramadan, when most social activity switches to nighttime, the closing hour will be 2:00AM.

Exceptions are made for 24-hour operations and recreational venues, including restaurants, but they will face closing at midnight or 1:00AM on holidays and weekends.

The principal reasoning behind the new opening and closing times is to make jobs in these sectors more attractive to Saudi employees, both male and female. Saudis, many of whom have family obligations, just aren’t interested in working until the wee hours.

Regulations for 9 p.m. shop closure finalized
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH — A high commission set up to develop the regulations ensuring retailers close at 9 p.m. has completed its task.

The commission is represented by a number of government bodies and the new regulations will oblige shops to trade from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The new regulations, however, have exempted stores in the central areas of Makkah and Madinah.

These businesses will be regulated by the city councils, which will also ensure they do not close any later than 2 a.m. during Ramadan, except for restaurants that are allowed to open until suhoor (the meal before starting the day’s fast).

Shops that are required to open for 24 hours will be regulated by a joint committee of the labor, interior, rural and municipal affairs ministries, while recreational centers, amusement parks and restaurants will close at midnight during the week and at 1 a.m. during the weekends and holidays.

June:30:2014 - 07:52 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudis are debating the proper place for women in — of all things — the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Some see women’s presence in the field operations of the religious police as a necessary thing. Others think that desk jobs might be more appropriate. Yet others are concerned that unrelated men and women, working together even on a religious mission, might be a temptation too far. At least the issue is being discussed, as Saudi Gazette reports…

Women in the Haia

THE Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia) plays a major role in protecting Saudi society’s moral fabric through its awareness campaigns and regulatory mission. However, despite the long history of the commission, it remains divided on whether women should join their male counterparts and work as field officers.

The topic is not new and has been discussed before, but with Saudi women joining the country’s labor force in large numbers women working for the Haia is not impossible. Supporters of the idea say now is the time to employ women in the Haia while others believe the idea should be extensively studied before a decision is made, Al-Madinah newspaper reported.

Sami Omar Al-Sibah, faculty member at the College of Dawa and Usul-ud-Din at Umm Al-Qura University, said women working for the Haia, particularly in field missions, is a step in the right direction but said the issue needs to be studied thoroughly.

“This topic addresses mainly the role of women in society and the sort of job opportunities available to them. Other issues such as guardianship, protection and segregation will be brought up if we allow women to participate in field missions. It is important to move forward but care must be taken in order for us to avoid future calamities,” he said.

June:27:2014 - 08:31 | Comments Off | Permalink

Despite the focus on youth in Saudi Arabia, the country also pays attention to its older citizens. Adult Education, which falls under the Ministry of Education, offers a variety of course, but none so popular as its basic literacy program. Arab News reports that the country has reduced adult illiteracy among males to 3.75% and among women to 9.92%.

Illiteracy down by 6.81%

Saudi Arabia has surpassed the Dakar Education Conference’s objective of erasing illiteracy among the elderly by 50 percent by 2015.

The Kingdom notified UNESCO that it has been able to erase 60.61 percent of illiteracy by the end of 2013, reducing illiteracy rates by 6.81 percent.

Education Minister Prince Khaled Al-Faisal said this achievement proves the ability of Saudi people to reach their goals. “Education comes at the top of sectors that reflect the true image of any nation.” The Kingdom will continue its strategic program to eliminate illiteracy, he added.

Prince Khaled has received a report on the ministry’s adult education program that includes awareness campaigns and evening classes.

Those who complete the three-year course are given certificates equal to elementary school certificate, and a financial reward of SR1,000 each.

June:22:2014 - 06:38 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Saudi Gazette picks up a piece from the Arabic daily Al-Hayat that comments on the way the definition of khulwa has been stretched by certain clerics in a way that would not be understood by the earliest generations of Islam.

Khulwa is the seclusion of two members of the opposite sex in circumstances which would permit them to do forbidden things — sex — without interruption. Some early commentators asserted that it could only be committed within a structure; that it was impossible to do outdoors. Now, according to some clerics, it can happen in offices, in a doctor’s office, within an ATM enclosure, or even in a car being driven by an unrelated male. That, the writer suggests, is using religious law to enforce a very narrow reading of religious law and extend it to situations where it does not actually apply.

What is khulwa?
Hassan Bin Salim | Al-Hayat

Some scholars exaggerate the meaning of khulwa (when someone is caught in the company of an unrelated member of the opposite sex). They impose many restrictions on women in order to prevent them from committing khulwa. For them, a woman who rides in the back of a car with her driver on a public road has committed the forbidden act of khulwa. Similarly, a woman who goes to a male doctor for a medical problem and ends up alone with him in a room without a nurse has committed the forbidden act of khulwa. A woman who happens to be in the same ATM booth with a strange man has also committed the forbidden act of khulwa even though they are both only withdrawing money.

In fact, some scholars have not only warned about the consequences of such acts, they have also applied the term to almost any situation involving men and women. One scholar has recently decreed that any conversation in an Internet chat room between a man and a women is khulwa even if the man who is chatting with the woman is on the other side of the planet. In the scholar’s views, this still qualifies as khulwa.

Al-Hayat daily recently published an article regarding an academic study, conducted by a university researcher, warning about the negative consequences of khulwa involving women and their male drivers. We hear many scholars and researchers warning about the consequences of khulwa but we never hear them provide solutions for women who depend on drivers to get around.

June:21:2014 - 06:40 | Comments Off | Permalink

There’s some creative thinking going on in Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council, I’ll grant it that. It’s not terrifically well-thought-out thinking, but it’s out there.

Al Arabiya TV carries a report originating in the Saudi Arabic daily Al-Hayat about a Shoura Council proposal that would permit Saudi women — who are not permitted to drive within the Kingdom — to obtain an International Driving Permit“International Drivers Permit for use outside the country. This would do something positive about women’s driving, so “Yaay”!

This way, women would be able to drive while abroad without having to obtain residency in another country in order to get licensed according to that country’s laws. That is, after all, the purpose of the permit.

International Drivers Licenses have to be issued from within a citizen’s own country; you can’t apply for them in a foreign country. Saudi Arabia could simply create a new document and, by a new Saudi law, state that it is equivalent to a Saudi driver’s license only for the purpose of obtaining an International License. It could do that.

Doing that, however, does not mean that another country would have to recognize that license. Countries can and do insist that the national license be based on both theoretical and practical experience, that is, experience driving on the granting country’s roads. That is a barrier the well-intended Shoura Council will have great difficulty circumnavigating.

It probably doesn’t help that Saudi Arabia is not a signatory to the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic, the agreement that establishes International Drivers Licenses.

Saudi Shura Council mulls allowing women to drive, though only abroad

While Saudi women are still banned from getting behind the wheels at home, the kingdom’s Shura Council is studying a proposal to enable women to drive abroad by granting them the right to obtain international driving license, Al-Hayat newspaper reported on Friday.

The proposal was drafted by Latifa al-Shaalan and Haya al-Mani, two of the council’s 30 female members, sources told the newspaper.

Article 23 of the council’s rules allows members to propose amendments to existing laws or propose new legislation.

June:21:2014 - 06:28 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette reports that Saudi Arabia’s National Society for Human Rights has blocked two child-marriages in the Kingdom. Good for them. Now, the government needs to finally get around to writing that law that would set a minimum age for marriage.

NSHR prevents old men from marrying underage girls
Saudi Gazette report

TAIF – The National Society for Human Rights (NSHR) recently prevented two Saudi fathers in Taif from marrying off their underage daughters to old men.

Adel Al-Thubaiti, NSHR representative in Taif, said the society intervened after the girls’ relatives informed it of the marriage plans.

He said one of the girls was barely 11 years old while her would-be husband was above 75.

“The marriages would have been grossly unfair to both girls because of the huge age difference between them and the grooms,” Al-Thubaiti said.

June:20:2014 - 07:28 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

In an opinion piece for Saudi Gazette, Nawar Ezzi takes Saudi society to task for being self-righteously self-delusional.

Far from being a perfect people, somehow raised above the status of mere mortals, Saudis are human, with all the quirks, foibles, and weaknesses that come with the status. The creation of Islam in Saudi Arabia did not suddenly make Saudis into perfect beings. Yet Saudis continue to believe and to act, she says, as though there were above criticism, that if something’s gone wrong, it’s just a temporary anomaly.

This is clearly not the case. But in seeking to find excuses for the less-than-perfect, Saudi society seems to have a way to make it all the fault of women. Women’s complaints are slapped down as being “against our tradition” when the problems do stem from those very traditions. Tradition has been elevated to a near-religious status, where attempts to change it or even criticize it are seen as sins of the highest caliber. This is not helped by Saudi laws on social media that actually do treat blasphemy and criticism of the social status quo as equal crimes.

Stop blaming Saudi women!
Nawar Fakhry Ezzi

Many Saudis once believed that we live in a utopia where any social problem is merely an “anomaly”. However, we have evolved as a society and are finally addressing our social problems and are attempting to solve them. Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia is a major issue that has been addressed locally and globally.

Although some Saudis acknowledge the existence of the problem, they still want to maintain the facade of perfection in front of the world by refraining from talking about our social issues. Surprisingly, some of these Saudis are even women who attempt to trivialize the issue and blame other Saudi women for tarnishing the image of Saudis when they talk to Western journalists about women’s rights! It seems that this is a case of “blaming the victim” and in case people have not noticed, the world already knows about our problems just like we know about theirs through media and social networks. Thus, hiding our social problems would only be a sign of weakness and will not change reality.

June:19:2014 - 05:17 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council is having no trouble finding reverse gear these days. According to Saudi Gazette, the Council has backed away from two items it has recently addressed: raising the minimum age for a driver’s license and requiring women to present their own ID cards to apply for or renew passports.

On the passport front, it’s found that it’s inconvenient for women to get those IDs in time for this summer’s flight vacation period. The new regulation isn’t be rolled back so much as temporarily suspended. The issue is a touchy one for Saudis. Some — a vocal minority — believe that giving women their own IDs provides them with too much power where their wiser male guardians know better. This group also throws up arguments that the required ID photo, sans veil, is asking too much of modest women.

ID rule for women’s passports on hold
Ibrahim Al-Alawi | Okaz/Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — The Directorate General of Passports (Jawazat) has retracted its former decision making it imperative for Saudi women and children over 15 to present their ID cards in order to obtain or renew their passports. The Jawazat had earlier announced that starting from May 1, women and children would have to produce ID.

“We have temporarily put the decision on hold but have not yet fixed a new date for its execution,” Jawazat spokesman Lt. Col. Ahmed Allihaidan said. He said the decision was suspended because of the travel rush during the school summer vacation.

“We want to complete the procedures for issuance or renewal of women and children’s passports quickly so that their travel plans are not disrupted,” he said.

The spokesman said the photos and fingerprints of women and children stored in the main computer of the Interior Ministry are enough for now.

“Women and children who do not have their photos and fingerprints in the computer should hurry to do this, otherwise they will not have their passports issued or renewed,” he said.

The motion to raise the age at which one can obtain a driver’s license, a move meant to reduce the carnage on Saudi roads, was promptly shot down. The current age of 18, it was argued, seems to work well enough in other countries, including those similar to Saudi Arabia. What is not similar, however, is the rate of accidents and fatalities, a difference I think worth noting. Also down-voted was a proposal to make father’s responsible for the irresponsibility of their underage driver sons. That is against Islamic law, the critics say, where only the person committing the crime should be held responsible. This strikes me as problematic as underage drivers are not adults and thus cannot be held responsible. There’s no one to really punish if neither the offender or parent can be held to account.

NO to raising driving age
Saudi Gazette report

RIYADH – The Shoura Council on Tuesday turned down a proposal to amend the traffic law to raise the minimum age for driving license from 18 to 20. It voted not to carry out elaborate studies on the proposal, mooted by Ahmed Al-Mufreh, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Council discussed a report of the security affairs committee with regard to the proposal to make amendments in the traffic law. Al-Mufreh suggested three amendments, including increase in age for getting a driver’s license. The committee recommended that the member’s proposals were not appropriate for deliberations.

Supporting the committee’s observations, members pointed out that many countries have a minimum age of 18 to drive, and this was after taking into account several social considerations. They were of the view that the current traffic law is excellent and as such no amendments were required.

June:11:2014 - 10:18 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Arabia is a difficult and dangerous place to drive. Last week, a Shoura Council member suggested raising the minimum age to acquire a driver’s license to 20. Now, Saudi Gazette reports, traffic police are going to be cracking down on underage drivers and will fine their fathers.

The reason underage males are driving, though, is because their mothers and older sisters aren’t permitted to drive yet families must get around for shopping, doctor’s appointments, and all the other little things in life that require people to go some distance from their homes. It’s impractical to require all families to employ a driver — many simply cannot afford it. Because older men are at work and thus unavailable to drive them around, families tend to fall back on whatever male might get behind the wheel, even if it’s a child.

Fine for allowing children to drive

TAIF — Traffic police will begin applying fines on fathers who allow their children to drive without a driver’s license. The head of Taif police, Brig. Ibrahim Al-Qahhas, said youngsters who drive without a license would be fined along with their fathers who allowed their children to drive. He stressed that traffic violations involving youngsters are on the increase and that his department has assigned undercover policemen to monitor and track violators.

June:09:2014 - 07:21 | Comments Off | Permalink
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