Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
In the last municipal election held in the Kingdom, it was speculated that women were not likely to win any seat across the country. Those skeptics had reasons to believe that. It was the first time for the womenfolk to get themselves registered as voters and candidates. As against 5,983 men, only 978 women participated as candidates in the local bodies’ election. As expected, women voters and candidates were so enthralled that they were of the view that even if one woman got elected, it would be enough for them. As a matter of fact, in addition to the total number of female candidates registered as candidates, many more women wanted to enter the fray but due to an uncertain outcome, they remained reluctant. The results of the polls surprised all skeptics, as 20 women around the Kingdom got elected to represent their constituencies at the local bodies’ level. Now, Saudi women are set to working alongside their male counterparts to serve their respective communities. The news of Saudi women being elected for municipal positions was on the international news media. But, many are asking how about jobs that require the women to wear a hard safety hat on their heads, swinging sledge hammer and using an electric drill in the other. Now, did I say Saudi women holding a sledge hammer in one hand and an electric drill in the other? I guess I did. And not one, but, I saw an all-women assembly line in a factory that makes air conditioning units of all sizes in Dammam. During the 1970s, Saudi Arabia had allocated areas set aside for the establishment of small and medium industrial units. Those areas were called industrial cities. It is a cost-effective way to put all small plants together from a managerial point of view and to help both the manufacturing companies and customers to go to one consolidated industrial area. In these areas you can see many different small plants that manufacture essential things for the country. There are paper, glass, plastic, paints, basic medical supplies, steel works and many other products. During the 1970s these areas were built outside the city limits. But, now, these areas are well within the city limits. And the city of Dammam is one of them. These plants are becoming very annoying to the residents living close to the industrial areas. So, there are plans to move these plants to areas outside the city limits. Moving these plants is very costly and time consuming. Moving the plants is a matter of time. But, some companies have made a shift in their approach to the better use of these industrial areas by turning many of their facilities to pollution-free facilities but will be of industrial nature. And there is the unique all-women assembly line that I have seen in which Saudi young women using electric drills, hammers, connecting electric wires, adjusting screws and the whole process in assembling air conditions. In the Dammam Industrial City, there are facilities built for women to use and improve their skills, experiences and their knowhow. Many women are good in painting, glasswork and other things and this is a good way to improve their skills and to become part of the Saudi work force. Until recently, Saudi women were seen working holding a pen and a stethoscope in schools, universities and hospitals but these days they can be seen at assembly lines holding an electric drill and wearing a pink safety hat. Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Women Proving Their Mettle reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.