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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
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  • 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)

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Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women drivers; 7 more bans yet to be addressed for Saudi women

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A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia, Oct. 22, 2013. VOA

Oct 2, 2017: The Sharia-ruled monarchy of the Middle-East, Saudi Arabia decided to lift the ban on women drivers on September 26, much to the elation of Women’s Rights Activists throughout the world. King Salman issued a royal decree on Tuesday granting Saudi women the right to drive thereby ending the kingdom’s notorious reputation of being the only country that prohibits women from driving. The law will come into effect on June 24, 2018.

While the pronouncement signifies a “positive step” towards women-empowerment, the conclusion of whether such laws can be turned into practice in a patriarchal society like Saudi Arabia can be drawn only with the unfolding of time.

Apart from relaxing the ban on women drivers, the Gulf Kingdom also terminated a series of interdicts forced upon the women. A handful of loosened bans included that women will no longer require approval from their guardian to work.

Another significant statute blessed upon women the freedom to enter the sports stadiums albeit exclusively for the Saudi National Day besides the compulsory edict of being seated only in a family section far away from single men.

The Government has also passed laws allowing girls in public schools to play sports and have access to physical education.

saudi women
UN Women political cartoon. Wikimedia

While everyone is busy celebrating women drivers in Saudi Arabia, there is still a myriad of bans inflicted on women. These are:

1. Following the divorce, Saudi women are permitted to keep their children with them only till they reach the age limit of 7years (for girls) and 9years (for boys).

2. Saudi women cannot marry and divorce without the due consent of their male guardian. The male head dominates everything in a Saudi family.

3. The women of Saudi Arabia do not have the permission to get a passport without the prior assent of their male guardian.

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

4. The approval of the male guardian is also required during any medical emergency. Women cannot take a voluntary decision regarding issues that concern the question of their life and death!

5. Women do not possess the right to socialize with men except for immediate family members. Consequently, all the restaurants and places of public entertainment in Saudi Arabia maintain two sections, one for the men where women cannot enter and the other for families.

6. Under Sharia laws, daughters can inherit property but only half of what is received by their male counterparts.

7. Saudi women cannot even start a work unless two male members testify about her character in a law court before she can be granted a loan or a license.

Prepared by Mohima Haque of Newsgram. Twitter @mohimahaque26