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.