Saudi Arabia’s women-only cities are no blueprint for liberation

Homa Khaleeli writes: Are radical feminist separatists infiltrating Saudi Arabia’s ruling elite? Have the women of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia undergone a wild revolution, read Love Your Enemy? and decided to eschew all male company to create their own political systems and free themselves from the patriarchy? I hope so, because otherwise it’s hard to imagine the convoluted logic behind a decision to build all-female cities to boost women’s employment.

The country already has separate schools, segregated universities (and the biggest all-female university in the world) not to mention offices, restaurants and even separate entrances for public buildings. Now industrial hubs are to be built so that women can be hidden away even further than their current dresscode of abaya, headscarf and niqab allows.

The country’s segregation is so extreme the plans bring to mind the US’s racial divide under the Jim Crow laws, ensuring “separate but equal” institutions for black and white people. And like the legalised discrimination in the US, “equal” in this context means no such thing. The female half of the adult population of Saudi Arabia is considered unfit to control their own lives. Women cannot decide whether to leave the house, whether or who to marry, whether to work or study, whether to travel, what to wear, or even whether to have major surgery – without the consent of a male guardian.

In a country of such startling misogyny, which treats women like children, it is hardly surprising there are few women in work and that it is becoming a crises the ruling elite is being forced to take notice of. Almost 60% of the country’s college graduates are women, but 78% of female university graduates are apparently unemployed – despite the fact more than 1,000 hold a doctorate degree. In total only 15% of Saudi Arabia’s workforce are women. And unlike in many recession-hit countries, there are more than enough jobs to go around – the economy apparently booming. [Continue reading…]

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