Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Punished for Doing her Job

Tuesday, 12 February 2008
By Sabria S Jawhar

It excites me to no end to think that Saudi Arabia is on the verge of a renaissance as our government invests in huge projects like Petro Rabigh, which is part of a $500 billion investment project that promises us millions of new jobs, new cities and new universities. We're moving at lightning speed to diversify our country's economy that promises to rival many Western countries working on similar projects. We certainly have the drive and ambition to successfully accomplish our economic goals. But our social advances are lagging far behind our successes in the business sector.

It alarms and saddens me to hear about the businesswoman arrested and jailed by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice because she was meeting with a man not related to her at a Starbucks in Riyadh. She works for a business in the same building as the coffee shop. When the power went out she and her colleague went downstairs to Starbucks' family section to continue their meeting. It was not long afterward that commission members arrested her and took her to jail where she was strip-searched and held for several hours before her husband came to retrieve her.
What does this have to do with pursuing big projects that will boost our economy?
We are relying more and more on a women's professional workforce. Journalism, public relations, marketing, banking and a variety of private sector businesses are seeing increasing numbers of women taking positions of responsibility. A 2005 government study concluded that women make up 14 percent of the Saudi workforce but it continues to climb at a rapid rate.
If we continue to depend on professional women to work and contribute to the economy why are we placing obstacles at every turn? We already are hampered by severe transportation problems.
Now we must be careful about where and how we conduct our business.
As professionals, it is not practical for women to conduct business in hotel conference or meeting rooms and some public buildings. And depending on the policy of a private company, there may be no comfortable place to meet with male colleagues or clients.
The alternative, and not unreasonable in the slightest, is to conduct business in a public place in full view of everyone. Hotel lobbies have been favored for many years as a neutral meeting place, but it's not the most practical place because lobbies usually lack work tables and electrical outlets for computers.
Saudi newspapers report that the woman arrested by commission members at Starbucks was accused of "khalwa," or being in seclusion with an unrelated man, which is a moral offense. I'm not sure how being in a crowded family section at Starbucks qualifies as seclusion, but maybe the commission has its own definition.
Apparently Al-Jawhara Al-Angari, from the National Society for Human Rights, feels the same way. She said recently that the woman was not in a state of khalwa because she was in a public place with many people.
I remember not long ago being interviewed by two women members of a U.S. think tank. They had talked to Saudi professional women in Riyadh and Jeddah about the progress of women's rights. We agreed to meet in the family section of a Starbucks in Jeddah. I didn't know at the time whether their group would include any men. I didn't think to ask.
It turns out the interviewing team was all-female. But what if a man was part of that team? Would I have committed khalwa? It chills me to the bone that an innocent, but productive and important interview might never have materialized if I knew a male member would be present and I feared being caught.
The media often tout the accomplishments of Saudi women graduating from universities with degrees and post-graduate certificates. And we often cite statistical data of the rising numbers of women in the workplace. Yet it's a hollow triumph if we punish them for doing their jobs.


Anonymous said...

Keep on fighting the good fight sister! A US fan.

Valdemar said...

Good luck, Sabria. But in a country where a woman can be convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to death by beheading... Don't you think you'd be better off somewhere else?

Patti said...

Most persecution - whether religious, racial or political - is engendered by fear and insecurity.
To me (an American woman) the apparent repression of Islamic women on purportedly religious/moral grounds appears as simply the fear and insecurity of the males who dominate the religious leadership (and would like to have even more power).
Men who are secure in their own being have no need to require women to be subservient, are not afraid of being diminished by a woman's equality or accomplishments, and view partnership as a means of increasing the strength of both the man and woman.
I've sometimes wondered why I don't see (Muslim) female protesters in the news - ah, but it's difficult in my soft, rural, secure environment to even comprehend the possible consequences.
But the pitiful, tragic excesses of patriarchal religious zealots are no different be they Islamic, Christian or some other male repressive fundamentalist group.
It has nothing to do with God or Allah - but everything to do with some men's petty weakness and feelings of impotence.

Hamzay said...

Well Done Sabria! I am very proud of u Voicing your concerns regarding women and their state here - but whose gonna take action - this is sich a male dominated society , so orthodox and ancient still.
i wuz shocked to see they actually arrested this women - how do u think this country will progress with these unreasonable rules and ridiculous regulations with regards to women only.
we r so oppressed - and we cant do anything useful even if we want to - its like our roles have been predefined. only if u r filthy rich can u afford the freedom of some activity in the compound accomodations - other than that u r confined to the four walls of ur home .
Alteast in a community like this - companies must encourage work at home jobs for women - so they dont lose their sanity - but for that - we might have to meet the male employer for that ! lol!

Anonymous said...

Recently,say about a week back,there was power shutdown in Eastern and central province and in Hail.The reason that has been stated by Saudi electiricity co is the short circuit in the 380KV transmission line.Ok,let us agree for a while with the CEO of SEC.But why it happened?is a big question mark that has to be answered by the CEO.Let me tell you some reasons for such accidental power shedding.The SEC is keeping unqaulified Saudis who are not electrical engineers in the positions of managers,who cannot understand even "A" of the subect of which they are the managers.Secondly,there is a lot of corruption in SEC.The Directors,managers,VPs are in a hurry to become millionares and get out of SEC at the age of 60,now they are all 55 and above,so naturally,they are in a hurry to make money.I know a manager in central operating area who is responsible planning of power net work and establishing power to new big customers like GEANT etc.He has three plots in Riyadh and going to build a palance like house shortly.The Director of Distribution is also similarly busy with the materials suppliers and contracotrs.The share holders are the poor guys who get SR 1 on each share a year.
CivilEngineers,industrial engineersa are the managers of electrical engineering!!!!! which strange.
Thirdly,the managers are so young and knowldgeless,they are unable to bring any innovative and constructive ideas.
The expats are overloaded and oppressed by some greedy managers.
No one in SEC has enough knowldge of future requirement of power in the kingdom.The best ones have left SEC like Tareq AL Betariy and Ibrahim Ahammoudi,more to leave.I pity the citizens of the kingdom.
If no action is taken by the Government to mend the way of SEC,then one day there will be black out in the whole Kingdom.The public in general and the share holders in particular should wake up now,this is high time.