Article for TNS: link here
The mixing of men and women is something we perhaps take for granted, but strict Islamic laws in Saudi Arabia still restrict the interaction of men and women together, particularly in the work place. However, as women in the country are becoming increasingly skilled and educated, many long to work and so Saudi Industrial Property Authority (Modon) plans to build a ‘female-only city’.
Although Saudi-Sharia law does not entirely restrict women from having a job, the separation of men and women in the workplace means that just 15% of workers are actually female. Progress in breaking free from this statistic has been seen though, as women have already started to infiltrate the male-dominated workforce in certain areas such as cosmetics and lingerie shops, where new laws were passed allowing women only.
The new city will have factories where only women will work, however it will not be entirely segregated and will create jobs for both men and women. Early reports on the plans mistakenly reported the city as being entirely restricted to women, but this turned out to be a twisting of the truth – the plans are for certain areas to be reserved for women only. Unemployment has reached 29.6% among women, and the government is striving to alleviate this level. Plans to build factories in the pharmaceutical, food-processing and textile fields aim to create in excess of 5,000 jobs, and if the scheme is successful, plans have already been drawn up to create other similar cities around the country.
Reactions to the plans have been somewhat mixed: whilst some claim that this is major progress for the country, others claim that it is just further segregation for women and cannot be seen as progress at all. Supporters have been keen to voice opinions, saying that it is often women in the workplace who support this kind of segregation. However, critics have pointed out that women in the country are not allowed to drive, and concerns have been raised over how easily accessible these cities will be for women. Does this mean freedom or suppression for women?