The Great Wall of Segregation

The government decision to segregate women and men employees at retail outlets is drawing mixed reaction, Arab News reported.

“It is a totally bad idea to have a wall built to separate both sexes in shops,” Dalal A. Kaaki, director of women business center at the Makkah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told the newspaper. “The harassment can happen anyway when a man comes to a saleswoman with his family.” But Aisha Natto, member of Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, defended the decision to erect a partition between men and women. “It is not a wall,” she said. “It is up to the ceiling. So for those who understood it as a wall, it’s clearly not a wall but just a partition.”

Is a 160-cm high partition a wall or not? It seems we can’t even agree what is a wall anymore. Like Hamoud Abu Talib, I really would like to know how did the government reach the 160cm number. Did they conduct a study to measure the average hight of Saudi citizens and concluded that this is what is needed to separate men from women? Abu Talib writes:

On one hand, I am happy that the Hai’a and the ministry have agreed that women can work even if it means they have to be surrounded by these 160-cm separation walls. On the other hand, however, I cannot help but express astonishment at the agreement for which there is no justification whatsoever.

Women’s employment is a decision that the Council of Ministers approved and it must be implemented. This means that no further agreements or approvals are needed. It is true that we have finally allowed our women to work. It is equally true that our consent has been wrapped in several impossible conditions that have nothing to do with women in the workplace.

What if a female employee is taller than the wall? Do we bring in specialist doctors to shorten her? I really want to know: Why 160 cm?

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