Saudi Arabia plans industrial city for female workers

Saudi Arabia is planning a new industrial city for female workers, ensuring that female investors and entrepreneurs can go to work in conditions “consistent with the privacy of women according to Islamic guidelines and regulations,” the Saudi Industrial Property Authority said.

The new industrial city in Hofuf will not be closed to men, but will have sections and production halls reserved for women within factories, the authority said in its recent statement. The city will be located near residential neighborhoods to make it easier for women to get from home to work, it added.

The industrial city near Al Ahsa airport is the first of its kind, according to the authority, and has been approved by the minister of municipal and rural affairs. It could provide as many as 5,000 jobs for men and women.

“Saudi women have the ability to enter the labor market and invest in the industrial sector,” the authority said in paraphrased remarks attributed to acting Director General Saleh Rasheed.

Saudi media first reported the proposed cities this summer, saying as many as four such cities could be in the works. Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry Deputy Chairman Saad Mogil told the Saudi Gazette that the industrial project would “offer comprehensive services to all residents of the city besides opening new avenues of employment for Saudi women.”

The plans appear to be a bid to balance religious strictures with the goal of getting more women into the working world. The kingdom has been tugged between modest reforms backed by the king and the objections of religious leaders who resist reducing the sway of Islam in government and public life.

Women in Saudi Arabia face rigid restrictions. They are in effect banned from driving and required to get permission from a male guardian to work, study or travel. The country sent its first female competitors to the Olympics this year, but women are still shut out of most sports, condemned by some clerics as a slippery slope toward immorality. Only a fraction of women work.

Among Saudi women who do work, nearly two-thirds said they did so to achieve financial independence, according to a June survey conducted by YouGov and Bayt.com. More than a third said their workplaces had both male and female workers, but in separate sections.

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