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A step forward: Saudi Women take up active roles in an All female Emergency Call Centre

This is a big shift for the conservative Saudi Arabia

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A Saudi woman works inside the first all-female call center in the kingdom's security sector, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia
A Saudi woman works inside the first all-female call center in the kingdom's security sector, in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. VOA
  • The seven Saudi women, almost all wearing the black niqab over their faces form the first women’s section of an emergency call center in Mecca
  • Saudi Arabia adheres to strict interpretations of Islamic law and tribal custom, requiring women to have male guardians and obey a modest dress code
  • Saudi women are present in multiple fields, so they can also be present in the security sector

Mecca, Saudi Arabia, September 1, 2017: Seven Saudi women sit in front of computer screens fielding distress calls from across Mecca ahead of the annual hajj pilgrimage this week, in a first for Saudi Arabia as it tries to expand participation in the workforce.

The seven, almost all wearing the black niqab over their faces form the first women’s section of an emergency call center in the kingdom, which has begun offering more education and employment opportunities to the half of the population that has traditionally stayed at home.

The women verify a caller’s location and request, which could be related to fire, crime, illness or a traffic accident, before passing the information on to first responders.

In the conservative kingdom, that’s a big shift.

Saudi Arabia adheres to strict interpretations of Islamic law and tribal custom, requiring women to have male guardians and obey a modest dress code. They are barred from driving.

However, the Saudi government has begun introducing gradual reforms to open new job opportunities for Saudi women as part of a vision to wean the country off oil — on which it relies for more than 60 percent of its income — and transform society.

“Saudi women are present in multiple fields, so they can also be present in the security sector,” 31-year-old Baara al-Shuwaibi, who studied English at a Mecca University, told Reuters, headphones hanging over her ears.

The women all speak English and received training before starting their jobs in recent weeks. Dozens of men sit in a separate room doing the same work.

“I receive a call, check the location and send the request to the proper authority as fast as possible, especially if it’s an emergency like fire or ambulance,” Shuwaibi said.

‘Step forward’

The National Operations Center in Mecca launched two years ago, becoming the first in the kingdom to unify government response services. There are plans for similar sites in Riyadh, Medina, and the Eastern Province.

This is the first year the women’s section will operate during the hajj, which is expected to attract about two million Muslims from around the world for a week of sacred rituals starting Wednesday.

The world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims has in the past seen numerous deadly stampedes, fires, and riots, and the authorities have been preparing for months to handle any violence, disease or a crash like the one that killed hundreds in 2015.

Major General Abdel Rahman al-Saleh, who runs the operations center, said it receives around 65,000 calls each day during Hajj, 50 percent more than normal.

“We consider the women’s section a step forward to demonstrate that women can work in any place and in any field,” Saleh said.

There are plans to increase the number of women and offer them advanced training, he said.

Hassa al-Badi, who manages the women’s section and has a master’s degree from an American university, said female callers sometimes ask to speak to another woman due to the sensitivity of their request.

“Women are now present in the security sector and, God willing, they will continue to advance,” she said. (VOA)

Next Story

Tech Giant Google Refuses to Remove Controversial Saudi App

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have also criticised Google and Apple for allowing the app on their platforms

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A Google logo is displayed at the entrance to the internet based company's offices in Toronto. VOA

Google has refused to pull out a controversial government app from Saudi Arabia which lets men track and control women who travel, saying it does not violate its Play Store policies.

According to a report in the Business Insider on Sunday, the tech giant told the office of California Democrat Representative Jackie Speier, who had called for the removal of the app called “Absher”, that the app does not violate its terms of service.

The US Representatives Speier, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and 11 others have demanded that Apple and Google must both remove the app.

Speier called Google’s response “deeply unsatisfactory”.

“The responses received so far from Apple and Google are deeply unsatisfactory. As of today, the Absher app remains available in both the Apple App store and the Google Play Store even though they can easily remove it,” Speier was quoted as saying.

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks at the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, California.

Apple was yet to announce its decision.

Absher allows Saudi users to access government services and also offers features which allow “Saudi men to grant and rescind travel permission for women and to set up SMS alerts for when women use their passports”.

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An earlier report suggested Saudi men could use the app to control female dependents.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have also criticised Google and Apple for allowing the app on their platforms. (IANS)