In what is being considered the first of its kind, the government in Saudi Arabia reportedly proposed a program that calls for an end to the draconian gender segregation that has been followed in the kingdom for a very long time. The program also called for an end to the mandatory prayer break that has to be observed by businesses.
The 236-page document sent to the reporters called for easing social restrictions in the conservative kingdom. The new “Quality of Life Program” said these areas needed immediate regulatory changes and called for an end to such laws.
It is important to note that calling for a gender-mixing and no prayer closure for businesses and shops could outrage the conservative population in Saudi Arabia.
These demands were made on page 156 of the document and the program was announced during a news conference, reported Bloomberg News.
However, later the online versions were removed and the government officials have not responded to the matter as of yet.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aka MBS, wants the people of the kingdom to be less dependent on oil and attract more foreign investments. His Vision 2030 called for more women to join the workforce — and all of this won’t be possible without a diverse workforce composed of both men and women.
More than bringing about a social change in the country, the move has got more to do with earning profits. Gulf countries were losing on big money after foreign investors hesitated to make investments, all thanks to gender-segregation.
Last year, MBS ordered that women be allowed to drive cars, ending a long-held conservative tradition considered an emblem of the Islamic kingdom's repression of women. After decades, authorities also allowed the re-opening of movie theaters, arranged comic-cons and concerts, etc.
In his first U.S. TV appearance, the crown prince said in an interview that the kingdom has “extremists who forbid mixing between the two sexes and are unable to differentiate between a man and a woman alone together and their being together in a work place.”
When asked about his stance of gender equality and if women are equal to men, the prince replied, “Absolutely.”
“We are all human beings and there is no difference,” he added.
Meanwhile, the government document calling for an end to conservative practices wants the Gulf country to allow the “intermingling of both genders to enhance social cohesion.” It also wants to make it legal to open stores during prayer times and wants women to actively participate in sports in public places.
According to the document, if these new regulations are followed, it would encourage citizens to participate in lifestyle activities that would then build up investors’ confidence in Saudi Arabia.
For now, it is mandatory for every shop, restaurant even pharmacies to close down five times a day to observe Islam’s daily prayers.
Only time will tell if these new regulations will ever get implemented, as the government will face challenges trying to implement them in the ultra-conservative society. However, for many men and women who are tired of living an oppressed life, these regulations could be a sigh of relief.
Thumbnail/Banner: Reuters, Reem Baeshen