A city in a ditch

Taslima’s very pissed off at Saudi Arabia, and rightly so. It’s planning to build women-only cities, Caroline Davies reports.

A women-only industrial city dedicated to female workers is to be constructed  in Saudi Arabia to provide a working environment that is in line with the kingdom’s strict customs.

The city, to be built in the Eastern Province city of Hofuf, is set to be the first of several planned for the Gulf kingdom. The aim is to allow more women to work and achieve greater financial independence, but to maintain the gender segregation, according to reports.

Sweet and thoughtful, isn’t it.

Homa Khaleeli doesn’t think so.

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.

Well who wants to hire someone in a body bag? Who can’t drive or talk to men or do most things without a male escort?

But how can further segregation be expected to solve the problems caused by discrimination? It takes a peculiar leap of logic to think the answer is instead to build whole new cities where women who choose to have careers can be herded. Would this be seen as acceptable, even progressive, if the cities were there to house workplaces for people of one race rather than one gender? But where are the voices calling for an end to the country’s discriminatory practices? There has been none of the broad support that would have ensued had the segregation been along race lines. In South Africa such segregation was the basis for a worldwide boycott, yet Saudi Arabia is merely seen as an “exceptional” place with a different culture.

Oh, it’s just women. Cool your jets.





  1. Francisco Bacopa says

    Come on. Lets all band together and make 2012 the last year Saudi Arabia ever competes in the Olympics. I don’t think they can make the kind of reforms they need to without completely changing their system of government, so if the IOC boots them out, they are gone forever.

  2. gworroll says

    Saudi Arabia has the world by the balls and knows it. Someone gets too forceful in calling for change? Just stop exporting oil to that country. Cut off all investments from that country. They’ve got plenty of other customers out there. All they have to do is not give other countries legal justification(or the appearance of it) for an invasion, and they can do whatever the hell they want internally. The scale of a boycott that would be needed is just not practical, too many countries need that oil.

    One of many reasons to get alternative power sources developed and deployed. Saudi Arabia might actually believe countries would join a boycott and stick with it for the long term if there was a viable alternative to their oil. They might start changing to head that off, and if they don’t- calls for a worldwide boycott might actually go somewhere.

  3. Erp says

    I suspect the conservative Muslims aren’t going to be happy about this either since it means women will find it easier to earn money and easier to find and meet other women who might have somewhat radical ideas (such as why shouldn’t women be able to drive, control their own lives, etc.). It is something that may be subverted.

  4. David Evans says

    That’s so unfair. The men should have a woman-free city first. They need it so much more, poor dears, being unable to control their desires at the sight of female flesh.

  5. Chiroptera says

    I’m assuming that this “city” is going to be fenced and guarded to keep unauthorized people out and the women in (unless escorted by a suitable chaperone).

    In other words, this “city” sounds more like an old-fashioned work camp for trouble making women.

  6. F says

    I wonder if this might not be a huge mistake for the forces of patriarchy. Even though they have the power and weapons, making cities where the population consists almost entirely of women might not be the smart thing for them in the mid to long run.

    Regardless, what they are trying to do is as bad or worse than what they have been doing to Saudi women.

  7. Sunny says

    I am a little surprised that it took the Saudis all this time to come up with the idea of segregated cities. After all it was done in South Africa. Perhaps they can hire some consultants from the old Apartheid regime. Something else that they should consider doing is having all women wear electronic tags so that they can be tracked twenty-four hours a day. They should also set up hymen check points. If anyone fails the test, she should be banished to a Gulag-type labour camp and starved to death.

    It is their culture, I suppose it is okay. We need their oil so bad that anything and everything is forgiven. Must be the “heavenly father’s” idea of a joke. Oil in the hands of a bunch of medieval tyrants.

  8. Brian M says

    Sorry folks, alternative energy is a cornucopean dream. Industrial economies need oil.

    Doesn’t mean we need to buy from Saudi Arabia, but be realistic.

  9. Rrr says

    SA, SA … now, where have we seen that before? Lessee: South Africa (apartheid), Saudi Arabia (gender segregation) U States/America (General Franconess)? RusSiA (TSArism), SyriA and IndoneSiA and MalaySiA (iSlAm), not to mention PRC albeit using a different symbol set, are SOO far from those fateful letters which sit so close on my keyboard. Even ISrAel has it, somehow.

    StrAnge. And then to think of ASSAnge — even stranger. Endless mirrors.

  10. says

    I’m waiting to see the street-plan for such a city. If it doesn’t look like a map of a penitentiary, I’ll be very surprised. Per erp’s point above, the authorities won’t just have to segregate women workers from men, they’ll have to very carefully police nearly all interacions among the women, both to deter them from organizing, and to satisfy the possessive instincts of the men in power. I’m sure the Muttawa would be happy to do that job, and they’ll have enough oil revenue to buy the best surveillance tools available. Look for (at the very least) ankle-bracelets that include microphones and monitor vital signs as well as location.

    Also, look for such all-female cities to end up serving as public harems where men (well-connected men at least) can go either to get laid or to find wives. (Either way, the women all pretty much have to accept whatever offers they get, because each offer could well be “the last chance” to get out of that dump.)

  11. Stevarious says


    SA, SA … now, where have we seen that before?

    Well, according to the Pedia of Wikis, S and A are the 2nd and 3rd most common first letters of words in languages that use them. So finding words or phrases that contain them both isn’t just not unusual, it’s probably quite common.

    But, hey, just so you know. John Nash’s tendency to notice and obsess over patterns of letters in unrelated words were a symptom of his mental illness, not of his genius. There’s nothing wrong with admitting that you have a mental illness, any more than there’s anything wrong with admitting that you have the flu. But do try to get help.

  12. Stevarious says

    @Brian M

    Sorry folks, alternative energy is a cornucopean dream. Industrial economies need oil.

    Doesn’t mean we need to buy from Saudi Arabia, but be realistic.

    There is a finite amount of oil on this planet. Looking for an alternative source of energy is not just realistic but necessary, if we still want to have an industrial society when the oil runs out.

    Nice derail, BTW. I wonder why it is that every single article on the internet that deals with women’s rights gets derailed to a tangential subject by some dude? Do the anti-women’s rights people do the same thing as the climate change deniers, where they they pay people to camp out on pro-climate change sites and spread FUD? Or are you one of the latter?

  13. Rrr says

    Ah, SAnk U lots, StevArioUs! It already feels so much better. Now, if I could only get a grip on that nefarious U AlSo I would surely be completely cured, AS well AS any oppressed by those letters. Even when they come in second and third place. Like, TSA?

    Unless the oppressors continue to oppress, that is. One can hope.

    Your helpful concern is appropriately noted, meanwhile. Noted is also (PLEASE NOTE, NO capitalization) your un-derail in your next comment.

  14. Chiroptera says

    Stevarious, #14: There is a finite amount of oil on this planet.

    And, looking at the recent research in climate science, we have to stop using it long before it’s all used up anyway.

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