In a bid to offer more women career opportunities without running afowl of Sharia law, the Saudi Arabian government is putting together a group of all-women cities.
According to Russia Today, construction on the first new municipality, an industrial hub slated to be part of the city of Hafuf in the eastern part of the country, is slated to begin next year, under the direction of the Saudi Industrial Property Authority (Modon).
Officials say the new hub will focus on the textile industry and create about 5,000 jobs, with women figuring in in both managerial roles and working on production lines.
“I’m sure that women can demonstrate their efficiency in many aspects and clarify the industries that best suit their interests, their nature and their ability,” said Saleh Al-Rasheed, deputy director-general of Modon, adding that plans are already in the works for the second women-only city, with hopes to develop a network of them around the country. The first hub is expected to bring in 500 million riyals (about $133 million) in investments.
Sharia law traditionally allows women to be employed in a limited capacity, but with a 26.9 female unemployment rate – four times that of men – religious mores may be forced to give way to fiscal prudence.
“Economic realities and necessities will force the society to change its perception of working women, because the situation now is unsustainable,” a Saudi diplomat told the Financial Times this week.
The government had already begun phasing women into sales positions at foreign apparel stores this year, gradually replacing men in lingerie, cosmetics and perfume shops, despite clerics’ protestations that mingling with customers could lead to “immoral” behavior.
[File photo via Agence France-Presse]
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