A few days ago, the head of the Saudi Commission for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice announced that including women in the staff has become a “pressing need.”
This is apparently an attempt to get back at the Saudi labor minister who is trying to implement a cabinet decision that allows women to work in lingerie shops. Judging by the statements they issued, commission officials seem angry at the minister for not responding to their requests for taking part in the implementation of this decision. They, therefore, have apparently decided to get ready with teams of women that can storm stores.
Opposing work in lingerie shops
What seems striking here is that the commission now calling for hiring women in its team had previously objected to allowing women to work in lingerie jobs or as cashiers in supermarkets under the pretext that these jobs involve mingling between males and females. What seems more striking is the use of the phrase “pressing need” in reference to the necessity of hiring women at the commission whereas this “pressing need” approach was not applied by officials when a woman told a TV presented, “I want food even if it’s donkey meat.” It did not also convince the head of the Red Crescent to hire female paramedics again because it leads to mingling. The same applies to lawyers, family guides, ID verifiers, and clerics. A woman has, for example, to bring with her two men so that they can verify her identity in front of the judge while a woman could be hired for that purpose. More than 1.7 million women, one third of whom are university graduates, were also over overlooked in the Hafez welfare program. Some clerics actually declare in TV interviews that there is no need for a woman to leave her house unless it is absolutely necessary. Therefore, nine million women in Saudi are expected to be financially supported by nine million men, even though some of latter are not even capable of supporting themselves.
Seems like the commission believes it is not enough for its staff to stand at university gates, stores, beauty salons, and photography studios because it is no longer enough to guard morals from the outside, especially as far as women are concerned, as if morals are exclusive to the commission. Here an overlap of powers might take place with certain entities giving up their authority to allow the commission to do its job properly. Do not be surprised when you see teams of commission women storming women-only wedding celebrations to check what the guests are wearing. The commission assumes that it is not enough for a woman to be monitored by her family and they need an external censor.
Non-stop surveillance means replacing the ethical conscience with an official one. This will eventually make people behave like teenagers for they will wait for the chance to break the rules and escape this surveillance. This explains the reaction of some youths when they see a woman like what happened when a group of men started chasing a face-veiled woman on a motor cycle. They were after nothing except scaring her. This scene shows that we have created of our youths the monsters we have always claimed they were through making it seem like every man is a potential rapist. Now, we have to wait and see what king of image they would create of women in order to justify imposing more restrictions on them.
(Dr. Badreya al-Bishr is a multi-award winning Saudi columnist and novelist. A PhD graduate from the American University of Beirut and an aluminus of the U.S. State Department International Visitor program, her columns put emphasis on women and social issues in Saudi Arabia. She currently lectures at King Saud University, Department of Social Studies.)
*This article was first published in Al-Hayat on Dec. 31, 2012. Link: http://alhayat.com/Details/467592