Huda Al Hamd, an anchor on Saudi’s channel has been suspended from work. On her morning show this Saturday she took up the unemployment problem in Saudi Arabia. She had on the show two extremely outspoken writers, Saad Al Dosari and Dr. Hasan Al Ajmi. Mr. Al Dosari made many statements such as that it is an outrage that 12000 Saudis apply when only 45 positions are announced. He also said that there are people or a mafia benefitting from how things are run. He even likened the current foreign labour system to human trafficking. He demanded that ministers do something about it, that they go to the King and show him how desperate the situation is by tearing their thobes (cultural gesture of desperation). Then Dr. Al Ajmi weighed in by stating that ministers only drive around in fancy cars, enjoy the centralized air conditioning and smell the most expensive Cambodian incense. He declared the ministries of Labour and Civil Service complete failures and the Ministries of Education and Financial Affairs disappointments. He said that it’s not employers who mistrust Saudis, its Saudis who mistrust employers. He urged ministers to inform the King truthfully of the situation and assured them that the King will support them.
According to Sabq, Saturday night and until the early hours of Sunday, meetings and calls from decision-makers were going on at the Ministry of Information and Culture. Sunday it was announced that the Ministry’s spokesperson Mr. Haza’a would manage the channel for the next six months; he’s the same person who caused an uproar after he suggested that Saudi bloggers register and get licenses to blog. Also Ms. Al Hamd’s suspension was followed with the suspension of her colleagues Samira Madani and Mohammed Al Radaini.
I have written on unemployment before. The situation is desperate. It’s bad for men and much worse for women. You can read my last post on it here.
I recommend you watch the video even if you don’t speak Arabic, the passion and anger of the guests goes across languages. This controversy resulted in a hashtag on Twitter #hoda2alhamed in support of Huda Al Hamd
Some of the tweets include:
With my rejection of the suspension and what happened, nothing will ruin the country more than Al Ajmi and Al Dosari when they say demeaning jobs and jobs that are beneath Saudis, that’s bull.
مع رفضي للإيقافات وماحصل، لكن ماراح يدمر البلد إلا عقليات العجمي والدوسري، ايش مهن حقيرة، ووظائف لا تليق بولد البلد، كلام فارغ #hoda2alhamed
Calling these people human traffickers is an insult to human traffickers.
وصف هؤلاء الأشخاص بتجار الرقيق هو أهانة لتجار الرقيق #hoda2alhamed
The Ministry of Information’s message is clear, anybody in the media who takes up unemployment transparently and boldly will soon join the unemployed.
رسالة وزارة الاعلام باتت واضحة: كل من تسول له نفسه من الاعلاميين تناول ملف العاطلين بجرأة وشفافية سوف يصبح منهم #hoda2alhamed
I’ve written about unemployment before here and here. The picture is just getting blearier. Saudi men are having trouble finding jobs with an unemployment rate of 10.5% and more than 449,000 open applications for government jobs in 2009. Compare that to 2008 in which the rate was 10% and the files 416,000 . As Abdulaziz Al Owashiq observed this is at a time when the economy is rising and yet the employment rate is going in the opposite direction. Another interesting observation of his is that the majority of those unemployed are those that should be the easiest to employ; 43% of the unemployed are between the ages of 20-24, 44% have at least a BA and 80% are single!
If that’s how bad it is for men can you imagine how tough it is for women? Now the numbers on women are so bad that the government won’t even acknowledge them.
Dr. Mona AlMunajjed in cooperation with Booz & Co did an extensive study on Saudi women unemployment rates and the reasons behind it. The report is in English and worth a read. An Arabic summary of this was published in local newspapers. The article included the findings that 1000 women PhD holders are unemployed, and it was this that was put as a header and that seemingly offended the government the most. Two weeks later the Ministry of Labour’s spokesperson came out denying that there were any jobless PhD holders and demanding an apology which Booz & Co generously provided. Dr. Adel Al Salah conducted his own investigation and unsurprisingly found that Booz & Co and Dr. AlMunnajjed had nothing to apologize for and that their study was legitimate. But nothing gets the Saudis all prickly like the news that citizens might actually be unhappy, especially women. We’re all queens and sheltered jewels.
Watani is a news organization which for the most part disseminates information to cell phone subscribers within the Kingdom and has only recently started a website. This organization is ultra-conservative and sporadically sends interesting insider information that is rarely published in regular Saudi media. Recently they have sent some of their own crazy numbers. On Tuesday 1st of June they sent a cell phone text reporting that the Ministry of Civil Service received no less than 11 thousand applications with fake male names or just initials that turned out to be sent by Saudi women applying for jobs offered to men only.
When it comes to the reasons behind all these miserable numbers, multifaceted is an understatement. The private sector is not interested in Saudis and it’s hard to blame them. As a business owner, would you rather have imported cheap labor who will literally live for your business in a little room you provide and work day and night, or a Saudi who will demand at least double the pay and half the hours? And then of course the culture does little to help the situation. Hard work is not regarded highly by Saudi society. Young Saudis aspire and look up to heirs who wake up at noon with jobs that consist of spending a couple of hours in a luxurious wood-paneled office signing forms. There’s not much respect for police officers, firemen, nurses or even small business owners. Above all many Saudis suffer from entitlement syndrome; the countless number of times I’ve heard “I’m a Saudi from so and so tribe, I can’t just take any job.” And when it comes to Saudi women, it gets even funnier. Because many will only accept on two conditions, they can only work until noon and they have to be paid as though they have a full-time job. Moreover the environment has to be gender-segregated. So if you are private sector you have to rent two locations or two sets of offices, one for men and one for women, that is if you want to employ women. The only exception is hospitals, clinics and extremely rare and untouchable companies in the major cities.
For people who have never been to Saudi Arabia, the fact that we are one of the biggest producers of oil often gives the impression of affluence. And in major tourist attractions around the world, every Saudi tourist is thought to be a member of royalty. That’s why I believe it’s important to show that that privilege and extravagance is only true for a very small and shrinking faction of Saudi society. Some of the rest are well-off as a middle-class. And then we have the majority; people living from paycheck to paycheck or some who can’t find jobs. This is a link to an anonymous blogger who has taken it upon himself/herself to contrast the wealth of our highest-class up against the conditions of the poor and some run-down government facilities such as hospitals and schools.
The growing unemployment rate and the rising numbers of households who cannot make ends meet have been a throbbing headache for those in power. Dr. Al Qosaibi was called in to rescue the government once again as he had with the health sector but even he could not do much when up against the stubborn muttawa ideology. Every common sense proposal he tried to implement was shot down by the dogged fundamentalist.
It is depressing that in a country where there are nine million people brought in on worker contracts, many of whom are low-skill, our own Saudi youth go to waste from joblessness and idleness. Young women not being able to take jobs because they cannot afford a driver to transport them to work or they are told that their job goes against our religion and traditions. Banking jobs are believed to be unblessed by God. Hospital jobs and any other jobs that involve working with men can get in the way of a woman’s marriage prospects and are simply forbidden by many families.
Young men who have to compete in a market where a Saudi’s basic salary could get the employer three men from India, Sri Lanka or the Philippines. I know that some accuse Saudis of being pompous and lazy but I know for a fact that the majority are hardworking and hungry for opportunity. These imported workers are willing to work ten to twelve hour work days and even live at nearby cramped quarters assigned by the employer. And all at a salary that could barely sustain an individual in Saudi Arabia, never mind households. How could a Saudi compete with that?!
Right now is the time of the year when many households in Saudi Arabia are worrying about their high school graduates getting into a good college. Recently the system has gone through a few changes. In the 80s and 90s it was rather stable especially the girls’ high schools. The boys on the other hand had some variety of choice in experimental schools where the education ministry would try out new systems before implementing them nation-wide.
To get into college, you have to have a high grade which is done in percentage. Each subject is given a score of 100, 50 points for each semester and grades for each subject are added up and divided by the number of subjects. It’s a little bit more complicated than that with marks for attendance and good behavior factoring in. Until recently, only the marks that students got in the final year of high school were taken into account by college administrations. That has proven too stressful for many students and has been a reason for many others to slack off the first two years of high school. So now the system has changed so that the whole three years are considered and the final average point is taken from the marks of all the years spent in high school.
Another new big change is the standardized exams given right after high school. This is one centralized system across Saudi Arabia which administers the exams to all high school graduates each year. An advantage of this new system is that students no longer have to apply to each college in person. All they have to do is take the standardized exam and then after a couple of weeks log onto a website managed by the ministry of higher education and make their choice of major. The system then matches up students with the appropriate college. However this is only for government universities. Students who are interested in private universities have to apply there in person and take other exams that are unique to each private university. The majority of Saudis prefer government run universities because not only are they free (no tuition) but also students get a monthly stipend just for attending. The stipend varies from about 200 dollars up to 400 dollars per month depending on the student’s major. Humanties and arts get the lower end and science and technology the higher end.
The summer that a Saudi graduates from high school is for many a stressful time what with new changes almost every year and worrying about whether or not they are able to find a placement at a local university. Without a college education, there aren’t many jobs to choose from and so the majority do go on to college. Parents at this time frantically set up fall back plans such as finding someone big to get their rejected child into university, or finding the means to send them to a private university. Some even go as far as to apply to colleges in other towns and cities to expand the likelihood of getting a placement. And in the latter case, if it’s a daughter, family members actually take time off from work to accompany her or for the unlucky ladies pay for a prison like dormitory to take her in.
It’s a time of year when it is polite to call up acquaintances that have kids graduating from high school and ask them how are they coping. And have they been able to get acceptance for their son or daughter?
In the past decade, the Saudi government has been consistent in its approach to women’s participation in society and their availability of lifestyle choices. Conflict avoidance and postponement has been the answer to each and every request for more women rights. The Islamic perspective plays no role in these decisions and their more crucial implementation. In an Islamic state that prides itself on being the only country that truly rules according to Islamic Shariah, the lives of half of its citizens are exclusively run according to cultural and tribal traditions . . . and little else…to read more click here.
On April 23rd newspapers reported that 100,000 applicants applied within one week of first announcing vacancies in women government jobs. While a month before it took three weeks to get 50,000 applicants for men government jobs. And the report quietly disappeared without much fuss about its implications and the hopelessness that Saudi women are going through. Yes it’s true that education is free and the majority of these women never had to pay tuition fees on school or university, actually they were given a monthly allowance (stipend) for studying after high school. Saudis have been paid to study since higher education first opened in the country as a way to get more people literate faster. And it worked because just three generations ago literacy was less than 50%.
It worked so well that most people younger than forty have a college degree. And even though women studied and graduated in larger numbers than men, yet it seems like they are expected to think of the whole educational experience as a past-time or just something to make them more desirable as marriage material. Now that all the segregated fields (mostly education) are bursting at the seams with all that human resources, the rest of these women have nowhere to go and little money to spend.
To have a hundred thousand applicants in one week in a part of society with which mobility is an issue should be a matter of great concern, especially considering that there are over 5 million migrant workers taking up jobs like selling lingerie, waiters and chefs and even our hotel industry is mostly run by non Saudis. All the while, Saudi women wilt at home waiting for the government to employ them in jobs that are proper for them to take. Because if they don’t take up something proper they are very likely to have our society drag their reputation and that of their families in the mud. Society does this in its own quiet way without much word getting back to the women concerned. The only apparent sign is a dry up in the number of suitors to all the daughters of that family. Just this week a Saudi news website gave this cultural punishment to a group of Saudi women journalists in a much louder form. The website reported that these lady reporters slept with their editors, smoked pot, drank and had so-called red nights at vacation houses on the outskirts of the city. And I’m glad to say that these women are fighting back with a lawsuit against the website. A lawsuit that the ladies are highly likely to win because our courts tend to bring the hammer down hard when it comes to making outright false allegations that tarnish family honor.
Financial gain in the form of student stipends and later employment salaries has gotten women over the mountain of family consent to study and then teach. Even the most conservative daddies and hubbies just can’t resist that boost to the family income. With the economy slowing down and the rise in living costs, financial gain might again come to the rescue of women in the form of larger numbers of families no longer being able to afford drivers and in expanding society’s definition of proper jobs for women.
In Al Madina newspaper yesterday there was an interview with the dean of the high institute of the prevention of vice and promotion of virtue (PVPV), Khalid Al Shammrani, PhD. This is the guy who teaches muttawas how to do it professionally and let me tell you it is not pretty. The institute was established in 2004 in order to assist in countering the bad behavior of the PVPVs in dealing with people. It’s where a muttawa can get a one year postgraduate diploma in telling people how to live their lives. Dean Khalid put it beautifully when he was asked about what they train muttawas to do, he said a muttawa is trained to handle “the person of sin” as a doctor handles a patient; sometimes a doctor has to be tough on his patient to ensure healing and so does a muttawa with a person of sin has to resort to Islamically sanctioned means to heal sin and then have the offender reprimanded by the courts.
In the interview published yesterday, dean Khalid expressed his frustration with the ministry of labour because they have been trying to provide jobs for Saudi women. He stated that this is not an area for the ministry to delve in and that it is unacceptable. He moved on to say that the gap that is growing between the people and the PVPV is artificially created by the media. He accused the media of purposely misleading public opinion by giving the PVPV bad publicity and not being objective in its reporting. He backs this up with a claim that opinion polls show that Saudis want the PVPV. Dean Khalid believes that all this demand for more rights and jobs for women is due to western influence. He also announced the founding of a new charity and organization for the study of the importance of the PVPV in Islam and to modernize the PVPV so that it is better able to face today’s kinds of sins. And so on and so forth.
In all his interviews he calls what the PVPV is doing accountability and the muttawas are the ones who make sure that people are accountable for their “sins”. What first caught my attention was of course his take on employing women and I am not alone on this because the newspaper put it as the headline of the article. So the ministry of labour has infringed its area by attempting to encourage the employment of Saudi women and the PVPV are here to put Al Qosaibi in his place and rescue women back to poverty and objectification. I bet that dean Khalid thought that the headline was going to be about the new organization.
Even though I live it, I am constantly shocked by how these muttawas dismiss women as infant-like and not deserving of the most basic rights. But above all I hate Saudi women for lying down and taking it, myself included.
The fifth of November was the deadline for applying for administrative and technical jobs at the new Princess Nora University in Riyadh. There were 218 positions available and the number of applicants was 40000 women and according to the Alwatan news channel the number was closer to 46000. So that is an average of 211 applicants per vacancy! And this is only in Riyadh, although it is the biggest city in the kingdom. Still that is a large number considering the fact that there are over 5 and a half million expatriates in the country, many of whom were brought in to do the very same kind of jobs these unfortunate women applied for. So many women looking for jobs that exist but are out of their reach because of numerous issues. Some of these issues are:
One important problem is that expatriates are willing to do these very same jobs for a lot less and for longer hours.
Gender also plays a major role since segregation is imposed on almost all sectors.
The women might have the right credentials on paper but when you come right down to it they aren’t trained at all. To illustrate I will tell you of three incidents of many that I have come across. The first was concerning a newly appointed computer engineer at one of my workplaces. She was Saudi and had just graduated from a five year program from a major Saudi university. She did not know how to hook up a printer to a computer and had to have a secretary show her. Another very common issue is with the Saudi English teachers at our schools. There are so many times that I have come across quizzes and exams where I had to first correct the questions because they were so full of grammatical and spelling mistakes before I could look at how the students performed. And don’t ever bother asking a Saudi librarian for help, she’s probably just as lost as you are if not more so. Why is this? Because at many of our educational institutes, we only go through the act of teaching and not really teach and train our students for the real world. Unlike the other issues, this problem is being addressed currently and many of these institutes are going through significant changes for the better.
We have an overwhelming epidemic of passivity. Maybe it is the heat but it is so disheartening to see the number of young men and women who are not passionate about anything. They act like old men and women at a nursing home. All they care about is their immediate comforts, living day to day in a fog of hopelessness. When I ask them why not do this or that they simply shrug their shoulders. In other countries 46000 applying for the same jobs would cause an outrage and people would take to the streets. A craze of patriotism would take over and heads of companies who do not have a substantial number of Saudis on their payrolls would see boycotts of their products…etc.
The final problem that faces women here is mobilization. I know that many people especially Saudis say that this is only a superficial symptom and that there is no urgency in addressing it. I say otherwise. Driving and being able to get around is a major obstacle facing thousands if not millions of women all across the country. 46000 women who were able to reach the university to apply, I wonder how many sat at home begging a brother, father or husband to take them.