Sunday 8 March 2009 (12 Rabi` al-Awwal 1430

      Woman fights poverty guarding toilet
      Najah Alosaimi | Arab News
      RIYADH: Dressed in a traditional veil, Ahd Al-Yami sits on a white 
plastic chair inside a ladies' toilet at a popular shopping mall looking at who 
comes and goes with their shopping.

      "There is not much to do here," said Al-Yami who has been working as a 
security guard for six months. "I handle emergency cases that require immediate 
attention, such as thefts or women fighting, as security men can't enter 
women's toilets," said Al-Yami, who has no training in first aid or security.

      She earns SR1,900 a month and works nine hours a day, six days a week. 
Her contract does not include housing allowance or health insurance, which 
makes it difficult for her to make ends meet in today's severe economic 
conditions. "Everything is expensive here, medicines, food, accommodation ... 
even jobs are limited for people like me," she said.

      It has not been easy for Al-Yami to find a job because she is a woman 
with limited education. She once found a job as receptionist at a clinic, which 
was in line with her intermediate education. Her family, however, did not allow 
her to accept the job because of the mixed environment."

      Al-Yami's situation is one faced by many Saudi women because of social 
restrictions that impede their ability to fully join the nation's work force. 
Due to segregation rules between sexes, Saudi women are left with few choices 
when it comes to work, forcing them to take on low-paid jobs.

      Although there is no official data about poverty among Saudi women, the 
Ministry of Economy and Planning reported in 2008 that over 60 percent of women 
are unemployed. The report said women comprise 55 percent of university 
graduates but make up only 5 percent of the Kingdom's work force. "This 
indicates that there must be some level of poverty among Saudi women though, 
traditionally, they are not financially responsible for their families in our 
society," said Fawziyah Al-Oyouni, a women's activist.

      Al-Yami has asked her company to revise her pay. They, however, gave her 
the option to either "stay or just leave." "They know how much I need this 
work," she said.

      A few steps from the toilet where Al-Yami works one can smell the 
enticing aroma of red flowers and white musk from a perfume and cosmetics shop 
staffed by a man.

      The sales industry is not open to women, as Saudi society feels such jobs 
lead to the mixing of men and women. Such views have forced thousands of women 
to stay at home. 

      "Yes... I would love to replace him. He sells typical women's items," 
said Al-Yami referring to the cosmetics shop. She added that working in a store 
is more "decent" than working in a toilet and it probably offers better pay.

      Al-Yami said she dreams of a better salary and an ability to rent a home 
with her husband. "We currently live in my parents' house," said Al-Yami, who 
is expecting her first baby in six months.

      On the International Women's Day website, Ana Agostino, co-chair of 
Global Call to Action Against Poverty, said, "Women currently bear the burden 
of the financial crisis as they are among the last to be hired and first to be 
fired when employers feel the pinch, and then face increased domestic violence 
as incomes put the family under intense pressure."

      The Saudi government has tried to decrease the rate of unemployment among 
Saudi women. However, conservative interference delays this process. In spite 
of a law permitting women to sell lingerie, women continue to fight for this 
right. "We have free education here but not all women can make use of it; 
whether they are educated or not all women face the same limitations at work," 
said Al-Oyouni.

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