Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University has licensed a study which one of its conclusions – I say this out of hope that it has other less shocking conclusions – goes as far as considering a woman’s work as a “cashier” at a mall is considered a form of “human trafficking because (the job) includes mixing and subjecting the woman to be tempted by men.” The study emphasized preventing this under the excuse that “fending off evils is more important than bringing benefits.”
If we are to think with good intents and consider that the university does not approve of this result because the importance of the study lies in properly using the educational curriculum, then we doubt the soundness of a curriculum that says “(hiring) a woman as a cashier is an exploitation of her body and presence to attract customers (and therefore) this is human trafficking.”
Covered, yet still seductive?
Since most of the readers of this paper do not live in Saudi Arabia, it is important to clarify that a woman cashier “allegedly attractive and seductive” carries out her job while dressed according to the basis of the Saudi system and traditions. Therefore, she wears a black abaya (cloak) that covers her from head to toe and a black face-veil that only shows her eyes. Sometimes, a wooden partition is placed that has a writing on it saying: “only for families.” These women – as one of them told me – suffer from harassments. But it is not that kind of harassment where someone flirts with them but rather where people tell them: “fear God. Sitting here (and doing this job) is haram, and it (includes) temptation. Fear God.”
Those alleging that they fear for women and those who are overprotective over women are the same people defending the marriage of minors. They do not see the marriage of a female child from a man in his nineties in exchange of a big amount of money as a form of human trafficking even if the child runs away or threatens to kill herself. As for the “Misyar” marriage, which bustles satellite channels’ fatwas, it is not human trafficking. On the contrary, it is a “halal” marriage. Those who go for it can change wives and husbands whenever they want to the extent that it became “legitimate sexual tourism.” Those who exploit this fatwa, like a woman who was arrested in Saudi on charges of having two “Misyar husbands,” one who visits her on weekends, and another who visits her on weekdays, were not executed.
Of course, the two husbands did know that their wife works according to the system of shifts and that her method is based on the saying that law does not protect fools!
Another kind of human trafficking that the researcher of course does not admit and does not cross his mind is the system in which servants work for us. Servants’ working hours are not specified, there are no days off and their passports are kept away from them to prevent them from running away. This is in addition to treating them improperly especially if the housewife uses the wooden spoon to direct the maid or the slippers to direct the driver.
Women’s work as sellers at the mall and as cashiers in public mixed places are the only two things that attract the attention of the researcher and his supporters. They consider these jobs to be human trafficking. They are not concerned in asking this question: what pushes a woman to get out of her house and accept this difficult job in exchange of about 500 dollars a month other than wanting to support a family of ten members and paying debts? If she went out to attract customers and seduce them, she has easier and more profitable ways than these jobs… a “Misyar” marriage for example? The second question is: Why do the researcher and his supporters only see these women as seductive in their imagination? Why don’t they see the misery that deformed these women’s faces and the poverty and indignity that draped them? Can we consider this imagination “normal” even if it sometimes uses the logic of scientific research and alleged foreign studies?
This article was first published in Al-Hayat on Feb. 20, 2013.
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.