Tuesday, 01 January 2008
By Sabria S Jawhar
ALTHOUGH I am the daughter of the holy city of Madina, the cradle of Islam, it's been sometime since my last visit. Usually when I visit the city, I rarely move around or go beyond my family's home or the Prophet's Mosque, simply because of its religious nature and the limited number of places to go for entertainment. I just wrapped up my last visit to Madina over the two-week holiday break from the university to visit my mother and brothers and sisters. Each and every visit is special to me. Not only do I have all the time for my mother but it's the peaceful city of my childhood.
During my 10-day visit, I accompanied my mother three times for her dialysis sessions at the Saudi German Hospital (SGH). The first day I entered the hospital, I was surprised at the number of Saudi women at the reception area. For a moment I thought that they were only visitors to the hospital so I passed by and went to the upper floor where the dialysis department is located. Two days later, I was at the hospital again, but this time I had to stop at the reception to pay the bill.
This time I found a surprise.
I discovered that those young ladies at the reception desk were all new graduates who have been hired recently by the hospital's administration.
They were responsible for the reception desk, which is the front-line to greet the public not only at hospitals but any business establishment.
So what if there are female employees at the reception desk in a hospital? This might be true at government or private hospitals in Jeddah, or even in Riyadh, but it's virtually unheard of in Madina.
For those not familiar with the nature of Madina, people must remember that the religious nature of the city has made its people more conservative than any other place in the Kingdom, especially when it comes to women's appearance at public places.
Unlike Jeddah, unveiled Saudi women are not seen in Madina. In fact, this is considered a source of shame for most of the families. It is almost impossible to see men and women mingling at a public place or sharing the same office, especially in private establishments.
The strictly-enforced conditions of segregation at workplace can be seen in Madina more than at any other place in the Kingdom, with the exception of Qassim region.
For the administration of a private hospital like the SGH to take such a courageous step and recognize the talent of those young women by hiring them to deal with the public should be highly appreciated. By taking such a bold step, the SGH has proved to this small but closed society that women are capable of dealing professionally with the most difficult customers.
At the same time they adhere to the Islamic regulations, Saudi customs and traditions. These young women are setting an example for the rest. They are taking the risk of confronting the old but deeply-rooted traditions that have prohibited women from doing such jobs. They are simply sending the message that, "We Saudi women are skilled and responsible and should be treated accordingly. We can be real partners in the government's development plans and in pushing the economic growth wheel forward by bringing in knowledge, accountability and responsibility if we are given more trust."
"Those young ladies are extremely disciplined and highly motivated, the thing that most of their male counterparts lack," said Hisham Natheer, director of Customer Service at Madina's SGH.
For natives of this holy land, I urge those who care for future of this nation to follow in the SGH's footsteps. Saudi women's talent should be highly respected. It is time to stop wasting the intellect and skills of women for nothing more than devastating traditions. Our country's ambitious economic development plans will be more successful if we trust Saudi women and ease restrictions that control their hiring and movements. We must create a more secure atmosphere for them to show their skills. This secure atmosphere, though, won't be created unless we protect them by law from being abused even by their relatives and guardians.