Saudi women check travelers’ papers at passport control at a border crossing. (AN photo)
By JEDDAH: ZAHRAA AL-KHALDY
Published: May 12, 2012 00:59 Updated: May 12, 2012 00:59
Women have joined the military for the first time in Saudi Arabia.
Thirty women were recruited as privates at the Passport Department’s offices at border crossings like King Fahd Causeway and Salwa border point in the east of the Kingdom.
A recent study of Naif University for Security Sciences’ Studies and Research Center showed that Saudi women have been embarking on security work as volunteers. The study “Women Police in Arab Countries” indicated a real potential for an effective women police force in Saudi Arabia. If that were to be implemented, the study said, all segments of society should encourage it, especially as policewomen would be dealing exclusively with cases involving women, in compliance with religious and traditional ethos.
Saqr Al-Muqaiyed, who conducted the study, said that about 4,000 women have attended courses and education lectures on issues related to security, including fire extinguishing, after assistant minister of interior for security affairs had approved it.
Head of Saudi General Intelligence Prince Muqrin said that (Saudi) women play an important role within the department. “We have a group of women that every Saudi should be proud of. Their reports, analyses and suggestions are far better than a lot of the men’s,” he said.
Gen. Ali Al-Harithi, director general of prisons in Saudi Arabia, said the role of women in women’s prisons is essential. Whether they are military officials or prison guards, their tasks include preserving prisons’ and inmates’ security, as well as implementing rehabilitation programs.
Al-Harithi said female guards are trained on the job as per plans drawn by a department for training and rehabilitating prison officials. “They are trained to deal with all eventualities.” Women officials in women’s prisons arrange guard shifts, supervise rehabilitation programs for inmates, escort inmates who have to appear in court or other government departments, and they arrange for conjugal visits.
Women prison officials’ military ranks are currently limited to private and noncommissioned officer, he said, adding that there are plans to expand women’s work and duties in prisons. Women who apply for a job as a military officer must be a Saudi, have a secondary school certificate, have no criminal record and be at least 17 years old.
Samiha Al-Thaqafi, ladies’ branch director at the Passport Department in Jeddah, said she and her employees are civilians, appointed to the department by the Civil Service Bureau. Al-Thaqafi’s duties include supervising the section and monitoring the workflow “to serve women who follow up their paperwork themselves and have their paperwork processed as quickly as possible.” The section contains eight employees — some of them process paperwork and some supervise the waiting room.
In addition to having a college degree and knowledge of computers, the nature of the job requires a woman to have certain personality characteristics to work at the Passports Department. “She must have a strong character, be diplomatic, patient, and sometimes she would need wisdom and have some knowledge of other languages,” she said. “It has become necessary to have women inspectors to inspect women; for instance, at border crossing points during the Haj season to avoid the infiltration of women who have no Haj license and to discover men wearing abayas to hide from the authorities,” she added.
In Saudi Arabia, women working in the military and in security are civilians. They do not wear a uniform except in places where only women work. Some Arab countries allow military women to wear uniforms at work.
Sayedati Magazine recently did a survey and asked 100 men about women in the military. Eighty percent said the nature of the job would not affect her femininity, while 10 percent said it would, especially for those working in prisons. Ten percent said they do not care.
All men said they would marry a military woman; 90 percent said a military woman’s personality would not be reflected in her upbringing of children while the rest said it would.