Last Updated: Wed Aug 15, 2012 18:25 pm (KSA) 15:25 pm (GMT)

Scratch that! No women-only city in Saudi Arabia

The Saudi government is trying to get more women into the labor market. (Reuters)
The Saudi government is trying to get more women into the labor market. (Reuters)

Saudi Arabia is not building an industrial city for women only.

Let us repeat this: Saudi Arabia is NOT building an industrial city for women only.

Contrary to reports in the Guardian, the Daily Mail, the Huffington Post, ABC News, Russia Today and dozens, if not hundreds, of other sources who published the story apparently without bothering to check facts with the primary source.

The reports about a new industrial city in the eastern part of the country planned to provide work opportunities for women were initially carried by the Saudi local media on Aug. 8. International media outlets picked up the story few days later.

The Guardian first published the story on Aug. 12, then followed up the next day with two blog posts. One by columnist Zoe Williams, who mistakenly called the new industrial city “Hofuf” - the name of an existing town near to where the industrial city will be located, - and predicts that it will be “exceedingly productive” because it will have no children.

“Given a couple of years, it will look something like South Korea compared with North,” Williams wrote. “Sleeker, shinier, way further into the 21st century.”

The other column, by Homa Khaleeli, likened what will happen in the new city to a “U.S.-style Jim Crow racial segregation.”

Strong words, but they are based on the false premise that the new proposed industrial city will be inhabited by women only. Let us step back for bit and see how we got here.

It all started with a press release by MODON, the Saudi Industrial Property Authority. The title of this press release reads: “'MODON' begins Planning and Development for the First Industrial City being readied for Women in the Kingdom.”

It seems that no one read past that title. The subhead of the press release, set in italics, reads: “Al-Ahsa 2nd Industrial City will create job opportunities for both men and women.”

Yes, both men and women.

The second paragraph clearly states that the city “is not intended for women only.”

MODON clarified the issue further on Tuesday.

“It's a city like any other city, where men and women work. But special sections and production halls will be reserved for women within the factories,” the Authority told Al Arabiya English via Twitter.

With the unemployment rate among women officially reaching 29.6 percent, the Saudi government tried in recent years to push more women to the job market. In January the government enforced a law restricting work in lingerie and cosmetic shops to women only.

A study conducted by consulting firm Booz and Co. said the Saudi government “should seek to create a supportive cultural environment for women and commit to overcoming the existing customs and social barriers that hamper women’s success.”

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