Saudi Arabia plans to build four women-only industrial cities. Women in Saudi Arabia, as everywhere else, increasingly demand greater financial independence, political, religious, and social equality, and unimpeded entrance to a full range of jobs.
But what’s one to do in a country where the ultra-conservative Wahabi brand of Islam rules the roost? Where women’s place is so far at the back of the bus that they’re not even on the bus? Where a woman can commit a crime by driving a car or exposing an elbow or a knee? Where women have no political rights? And where western governments have not only turned a blind eye to this ongoing human rights abuse of half of the population but have licked their chops to supply weapons and industrial and consumer products?
The solution, according to the Saudi government and, apparently some women entrepreneurs, is to create a city where women can be separate, even if not equal. (Although the situation was totally different, I’m reminded of the old South African bantustans in the days of apartheid. What will these cities be called? Womenustans? or, in keeping with the Wahabi philosophy, InferiorUncleanHumansustans?)
This, says the government, will give women a chance to “clarify the industries that best suit their interests, nature, and ability.”
Well, I have a different suggestion.
How about segregating the males and letting women (along with Saudi men who believe in human rights and gender equality) run the country for a change?
It would be simple. Set up some zones for men who really believe they are superior. They get to do their businesses. Let’s be generous and even let them run their own internal governments. (Although, since men do tend to have some issues when they play with tanks and missiles, let’s make these demilitarized zones so these men can focus on “what best suits their interests, nature and ability.”)
And, in the process, we could even promote some regional peace. We could set up an exchange programme between these new Saudi men’s cities and the ultra-orthodox haredim men of Israel (who over the past year have stoned women who, yes, exposed an elbow or a knee.) After all, perhaps the most profound division in the region isn’t between Muslims, Jews, and Christians, but between those who support human rights and those who do not.