Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, is noted for having said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” It seems that the sentiment applies when it comes to Saudis and abayas, according to this report from Arab News.
Dammam University, in the Eastern Province city of that name, appears to have issues with non-black abayas. The claim is that colored abayas detract from the dignity of the university. M’kay… I guess it could be analogized to a ban on wearing shorts and flip-flops at an American university, not that any but a religiously-affiliated university would seek to impose such a ban. But all universities in Saudi Arabia are religiously-affiliated, in one way or another.
I do find it peculiar, though, that though “modesty” is being imposed by head-to-toe coverings, the actual color of the coverings matters. Does a blue or green abaya conceal less than a black one? This might be an interesting research project for one studying physics or optics or human psychology.
Dammam University has launched a campaign against colorful abayas after a number of girls were caught without the customary black outer covering mandatory in educational institutions.
Supervisors at Dammam University confirmed that the campaign against the wearing of colored abayas had begun in all their colleges. They pointed out that although colored abayas are easily available in the market, female students are required to abide by the rule of wearing black as a sign of respect to the educational environment.
Female students also said that supervisors and security employees had begun implementing the campaign since last week and that any girl found in violation of the rule would be penalized. They also said that they had been warned that all violations would be documented and filed. They were also expected to abide by the instructions which authorities say promote modesty in dress and appearance.
While the need for women to work in Saudi Arabia is apparent, not all Saudis are comfortable with the idea, particularly if it involves women working outside the home or — gasp! — working with unrelated males.
Saudi Gazette reports that at least women’s working in hotels is becoming more acceptable. The broader society is no longer (or at least, not as much) jumping to conclusions about those women’s morality. Not only does this make it easier for women to take up the jobs, but hoteliers report that women make better employees, less likely to change jobs.
Stigma of Saudi women working in hotels gradually disappearing
Saudi Gazette report
AL-KHOBAR – A group of Saudi women who have been working in the hotel industry said the stigma attached to women in this field is disappearing, Al-Hayat daily reported.
Until a few years ago, women in such jobs were frowned upon by many members of society. As a result, few women worked in the hotel industry because of fears that they would find it difficult to get married as most men disapproved of marrying hotel employees, especially receptionists.
However, the past four years have seen a gradual shift in the negative views associated with hotel industry jobs, thanks to the Ministry of Labor’s laws requiring hotels to hire more women.
Foaz Al-Zahrani, director of marketing for a hotel in Dammam, said women working in the hospitality industry are viewed with more respect today as they have shown to the world they can be trustworthy and professional. “No doubt the ministry’s regulations have helped in changing the negative view on us,” Al-Zahrani said.
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labor has restated its ruling that women employed in the private sector are entitled to 10 weeks of maternity leave. Those women who have been with the company for three or more years get full pay for the period; those with less, get half-pay, but do not lose vacation pay.
The report in Saudi Gazette also notes that women now comprise 11.6% of the Saudi workforce, up from 2.7% in 2010-2011.
10-week paid maternity leave in private sector
Saudi Gazette report
JEDDAH — The Ministry of Labor has defended private sector employees’ right to maternity leave by saying any woman who works in the private sector should receive a maternity leave of four weeks prior to her due delivery date and six weeks following the delivery.
The entire period of maternity leave should be fully paid if the employee has been working with the same employer for three years.
An official source at the ministry told Al-Madina daily that employers are required to pay female employees half their salaries during the 10-week maternity leave if they have been employed for a minimum of 12 months. Salaries are due before employees take their maternity leave.
“Employers do not have to give their female employees paid annual vacation if an employee availed of maternity leave with full salary. Employees who only received half salaries during maternity leave should get the due half salaries during annual vacation,” he said.
Cinemas may see a renaissance in Saudi Arabia, Arab News reports. A committee of four government agencies — including the all-important Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice — is said to have signed off on a decision to permit cinemas to reopen in the Kingdom.
Exactly how they will be regulated is not addressed in the article. The article does, however, credit the success of the Saudi film “Wadjda” as playing an important role in coming to the decision.
The green light has been given for establishing cinema houses in Saudi Arabia, following the reported agreement of four government entities.
A source said relevant authorities assigned to take this decision include the Ministry of Interior, the Supreme Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), the General Commission for Audiovisual Media, and the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia).
He said the SCTA and the audiovisual commission have a direct interest in the matter, while the other two are concerned with consultations and coordination.
The first people who introduced cinema to Saudi Arabia were foreigners working in Aramco (now Saudi Aramco), during the 1930s; in the 1990s they became available to Saudis at their sports clubs.
Saudi Gazette reports that the Associated Press release last week that suggested that Saudi Arabia was about to permit some women to drive was erroneous. The country’s Shoura Council — reported to have been discussing the issue — denies that it had recommended changes in the country’s prevailing practice.
The regulations the AP article reported are very much in line with what people expect to happen, but apparently the report is premature at best. The AP reporter, Ali Al-Shihri, has been reliable, but it seems he got burned by his source on this story. It’s entirely possible that his source was trying to create new facts on the ground. Or to make sure they never happened.
Shoura denies reports on women driving
Saudi Gazette report
RIYADH — Shoura Council spokesman Dr. Muhammad Al-Muhana denied reports published by foreign news agencies on Friday that the Council has approved women driving.
The Shoura Council has not issued any decisions regarding women driving, Al-Madina Arabic daily quoted Dr. Al-Muhana as saying on Saturday.
The Associated Press quoted a Shoura Council member without identifying him or her that the Council made the recommendations in a closed session held in the past month. Under the said recommendations, only women over 30 would be allowed to drive and they would need permission from a male relative — usually a husband or father, but lacking those, a brother or son. They would be allowed to drive from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Saturday through Wednesday and noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday.
The said conditions also require that a woman driver wear modestly and no make-up, the official was quoted as saying by the news agency. Within cities, they can drive without a male relative in the car, but outside of cities, a male is required to be present.
While a certain US political party tried, unsuccessfully, to make an issue of a supposed “war on women” during the last election, it’s clear that Saudi Arabia has a bigger problem. But we knew that.
Saudi Gazette provides some figures, though, that indicate Saudi women are earning only 56% of what men earn. And that’s the lowest ratio in the GCC. According to the paper’s figures, Saudi women, on average, earn in the area of US $1,000 per month, compared to a bit over US $1,500 for men.
Saudi women employees paid ‘almost half as men’
Saudi Gazette report
DAMMAM — The disparity in wages between men and women in the Gulf region is the largest in Saudi Arabia, Makkah daily reported.
According to statistics published by the World Economic Forum for 2014, Saudi women earn on average only 56 percent of the wages earned by men.
Qatari working women came first worldwide, earning on average 81 percent of the wages paid to men, followed by Emirati women with 79 percent, Omanis with 74 percent, Bahrainis with 71 percent and Kuwaitis with 63 percent. Saudi labor law prohibits salary differences based on gender, according to a ministerial decree.
Assistant Deputy Minister of Labor Fahd Al-Tekhaifi would not explain whether this directive applies to the private sector.
According to statistics issued by the Ministry of Labor for 2013, the average wages for men in the services sector was SR5,139 a month, compared to SR3,447 for women (67 percent).
Writing at Foreign Policy, Caryle Murphy — who has spent considerable time in Saudi Arabia — reports that the fundamentalist view of Islam promoted by the state and supported by large parts of the population, is coming under pressure.
On both social and political fronts, the most conservative aspects of the “authorized” Salafist interpretation of Islam is being questioned by Saud youth. They do not, of course, have the field to themselves. There are those who continue to see the government as too liberal, too inclined to “succumb to foreign influence.” The government itself has vested interests, of course. But increasingly, individual Saudis are willing to question the assertions that have been drilled into them since early school years. Some, indeed, are willing to acknowledge their agnosticism or atheism, knowing that they could be legally punished for expressing such views.
The article is worth reading in its entirety.
Questioning the Faith in the Cradle of Islam
In Saudi Arabia, a new generation is pushing back against the government’s embrace of fundamentalism. But is the kingdom ready for nonbelievers?
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — Ahmed al-Ghamdi’s long, bushy beard and red-checked headscarf are emblems of his conservative approach to Islam, which is no surprise for a man who once supervised the Saudi religious police in the holy city of Mecca.
But it was something surprising about Ghamdi that brought me to his apartment in a scruffy, low-income section of Jeddah in the sweltering summer of 2011. I wanted to know why he had announced that, after extensive research, he could find no Islamic basis for Saudi society’s most distinctive feature: its strict gender segregation.
As his wife, sister, and mother listened in with obvious pride, Ghamdi explained that he could no longer take “at face value” religious rulings that gender mixing is haram — that is, religiously prohibited. “I wanted to go to their underpinnings, so I began collecting all the texts relating to this matter from the Quran and the Sunna [examples from the life and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed],” he said. “My conclusion was that not a single text or verse in the Quran and Sunna specifically says that mixing is haram. The word ‘mixing’ is not even in the Quran.”
Instead, he said he found plenty of texts “that proved that mixing happened at the time of Prophet Mohammed” and that “it is just another part of normal life.”
Saudi nationals are not permitted to hold dual citizenship, Arab News reports, except in some circumstances. That’s a bit baffling as the circumstances (other than that the citizen must obtain prior permission) aren’t made clear, nor are what purposes the regulations are meant to address. Every country, of course, has the right and duty to decide who it deems a citizen. Why permission might be granted will have to remain a puzzle until someone says something.
The Kingdom does not allow dual nationality, said Mohammad Jasser Al-Jasser, spokesman for Civil Status. However, the citizenship of a Saudi female will not be revoked if her husband alone obtains a foreign nationality.
“The Kingdom will cancel the citizenship of any Saudi citizen who obtains a foreign nationality without prior permission of the Interior Ministry,” Al-Jasser said.
He added that Saudi citizenship will be taken away from any Saudi citizen who is in the ranks of military in any foreign government, without the authorization of the Saudi government. The same applies to citizens who work for foreign governments in a current state of war with Saudi Arabia.
“According to the nationality system of Saudi Arabia, dual nationality is not allowed in compliance with Article 11, which stipulates that no Saudi citizen is allowed to obtain a foreign nationality without prior permission of the Council of Ministers. If a citizen obtained a foreign nationality before acquiring the permission, the government still retains the right to revoke the person’s Saudi citizenship in accordance with Article 13 of the nationality system,” he explained.
Just a few years ago, the idea of physical education for girls was one that led to huge arguments in the Saudi population and, consequently, one the Saudi government preferred to avoid.
That’s changed. Not only is physical education becoming part of the curriculum in girls schools, but the government is establishing 1,000 “fitness and social clubs” around the country, Arab News reports.
The wars over what’s acceptable for women are hardly finished. There are still many Saudis who find the idea morally dangerous and fight against it. For now, though, they’ve lost the battle.
Ministry plans 1,000 fitness clubs for girls
JEDDAH: FOUZIA KHAN
The Ministry of Education plans to launch 1,000 fitness and social clubs for girls around the country by the end of 2015.
Noura Al-Fayez, deputy minister of education for girls, said on Wednesday that the aim is to ensure these clubs are for members of the community, particularly young people, to develop a range of skills.
Al-Fayez made the comments on Wednesday during a tour of a club in Riyadh.
Al-Fayez was welcomed by Samira Sheaibi, assistant director of the girls education department in Riyadh; Nadia Al-Ghyshian, assistant general supervisor of the program; Nora Alkanaan, director of the Shifa education office; Nora Budaiya, director of the club; and several supervisors and management activity directors.
Most of Saudi Arabia’s efforts toward solving its unemployment programs have gone toward finding jobs for men. But not all of them.
The Saudi government has “feminized” lingerie and women’s accessories shops, permitting only Saudi women to work in them and limiting the access to those shops by males. Now, Saudi Gazette reports, gold and jewelry shops are coming into focus as a women-only domain. New regulations are being kicked around that will see women as the primary employees of these shops, though details are still to be worked out. The women will replace mostly expat employees, most of whom come from S. Asia.
I’m not sure that 100% of jewelry and gold shops can work with only-female staff. Saudi men do buy jewelry and not always in the company of their wives. Some sort of accommodation will have to be found for them. Whatever the solution, the cost of jewelry will go up as shop owners have to make changes to make their shops suitable for female employees. The government might offer one-time financial assistance in making these changes, but that will have to be addressed in the regulations.
Move afoot to employ women in jewelry shops
Naheel Abdullah | Saudi Gazette
JEDDAH — The Ministry of Labor is working on a new regulation to employ Saudi women at jewelry shops, according to Fahd Al-Tekhaifi, deputy minister for special programs.
The ministry will soon post the draft regulation on its electronic gate of “Together We Improve” in order to have feedback from businessmen, jobseekers and members of society prior to finalizing the regulation.
Al-Tekhaifi said the ministry considers that jewelry shops are one of the major areas that can provide jobs for a large number of young women jobseekers. He noted that jewelries and gold market are one of the key areas designated for Saudization as per a royal decree issued three years ago. Owners of jewelry shops will be instructed to employ Saudi women after meeting all the terms and conditions put forward by the ministry in this respect, he said.
Al-Tekhaifi said the conditions will vary in accordance with the location of jewelry shops, which are either inside indoor commercial centers or outdoor souks or separate locations. The conditions are aimed at guaranteeing safe and suitable work environment for women.
Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that for the first time, Saudi women are now working in the slaughterhouses that provide the sacrificial animals to mark the end of Haj. While the jobs are seasonal, they are valid employment. The women work as managers overseeing quality control; as an interface between female customers and the house; and in distributing the meat to the poor.
Slowly, the conceptual barriers between “men’s work” and “women’s work” are being broken down.
For 1st time, Saudi women work in slaughterhouses
Abdullah Al-Dhhas | Okaz/Saudi Gazette
MINA — For the first time ever, 15 Saudi women are supervising the slaughtering of sheep, cattle and camels at Al- Moaissim Model Slaughterhouse, near Mina during this Haj season.
Bandar Al-Suhairi, chairman of the company operating the slaughterhouse, said the women are supervising the slaughtering of animals, assisting other women who want to use the slaughterhouse and distributing meat among the poor and needy.
He said the women employees were assigned the task of supervision and control and they prevent other women from entering the place where animals are being slaughtered.
“These are seasonal workers. The women are being employed for the first time at a slaughterhouse during the Haj,” he said.
In a culture where the idea of sexual purity can reach the level of pathological obsession, it doesn’t take much to set off an explosion.
Saudi Gazette translates a piece from the Arabic daily Al-Jazirah commenting on the most recent hullabaloo. A schoolgirl recites a poem for the visiting Minister of Education. The Minister, in a perfectly normal act, kissed the girl on her head. Not on her lips, on her head. And the result is a firestorm alleging sexual and moral improprieties. This is nuts and the writer isn’t reluctant to say so.
Who has victimized Janah?
Abdul Rahman Al-Shlash | Al-Jazirah
Janah Miteb Al-Shammari is a 12-year-old schoolgirl from Hail. Education Minister Prince Khaled Al-Faisal visited her school. She insisted on reciting a poem in his presence on the occasion of the National Day. The Prince was impressed by the promising talent of the young girl. In appreciation, he kissed her in a fatherly fashion on the forehead.
The kiss was from a top official, a father and an education leader to a young talent who needed support and encouragement. This historic moment will forever be imprinted in the memory of the young girl throughout her life. It is not very often that a boy or a girl student has the opportunity to meet with the man in charge of education in the country.
Regretfully this spectacular scene was marred by some sick-minded people, who linked the moment to stagnant conceptions in their brains.
Citizens with normal minds did not see anything wrong in a little girl reciting a poem and a top education official appreciating her talent with a kiss on the forehead. They only saw in the situation a kind gesture by a father towards one of his creative and talented daughters.