Gender-segregation partitions draw mixed reaction


Saturday 2 February 2013

A new ruling issued by Saudi Labor Minister Adel Fakeih and approved by Abdullatif Al-Sheikh, the head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, require shops employing both men and women to build segregation walls to enforce the separation of men and women.

The barriers to be built will be no shorter than 6 feet in workplaces that employ members of both sexes.

“It is not a wall,” said Dr. Aisha Natto, member of Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “They said it is only a partition between the sexes in a shop that employ both men and women. It is up to the ceiling. So for those who understood it as a wall, it’s clearly not a wall but just a partition.

He said the partition will be approximately between 1 and 1.8 meters.

Natto said that it is one of the solutions to empower women to work in these shops.

“It is not a government law but a social law,” she said. “People refuse to have women work as saleswomen. So the government tried a compromise solution so the women can work in shops.”

She noted that 50 years ago people refused to have women work in schools but now that has changed.

“In my case, I am a writer. Six years ago, they didn’t allow my photo to be published with my articles but now that has changed too,” Natto said. “I am allowed to publish my photo with each of my articles. We just need time. It is a social obstacle and not a government obstacle. It is not a law or has anything to do with religion. There is no such thing as not allowing a woman to work, in religion.”

Natto pointed out that the main objective is simply not to have women be in touch with men.

“We have 1-million-seven-hundred jobless women in this country. We need the government, the media and organizations to encourage this logistic initiative till we have our women tackle their rising problem of unemployment. We need to help and empower them,” said Natto.

While some Saudi women agree that the decision will bring more employment opportunities for women, others still think that the “wall” is not going to stop any harassment.

“It is a totally bad idea to have a wall built to separate both sexes in shops,” said Dalal A. Kaaki, director of women business center at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “The harassment can happen anyway when a man comes to a saleswoman with his family. Building a wall with an intention to separate the sexes has nothing to do with stopping the harassment. Instead, a strong law must be enforced to punish the one who harasses. Implementing such a law will prevent people from attempting to do something bad, whether it is to the salesmen, saleswomen or the customers.”

The Ministry of Labor decision to employ women at lingerie and cosmetic boutiques in 2011 was to create more jobs for Saudi women, among whom the rate of unemployment reached a height of 30 percent, according to official figures.
According to recent reports, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheikh said in a Friday sermon that authorities must adhere to Shariah by making sure that men and women are separated as much as possible at all times.

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