Riyadh: Saudi Arabia’s national airline Saudi Arabian Airlines, operating as Saudia, plans to ban gender-mixing aboard all its flights in line with the religious rules enforced by the Sunni Muslim regime, the Emirates247 news website reported.
The flag carrier airline said the policy change came following recurrent complaints from passengers objecting to have random males seated next to their wives and other female family members. “There are solutions to this problem…we will soon enforce rules that will satisfy all passengers,” Saudia assistant manager for marketing Abdul Rahman Al Fahd said, quoted by Saudi Arabic language daily Ajel.
According to the paper the airlines’ staff at all of the Gulf kingdom’s airports will be instructed to make sure males and females are separated aboard Saudia’s flights unless they are closely related. Saudi Arabia is infamous for its culture of gender segregation, deeply rooted in the mentality of minimising the exposure of women in society.
Many Saudi women require their mahrem (male guardian) approval to travel or work outside of the home, and most Saudi families do not want nor would support their female relatives exposed to work in public positions. Furthermore, there are no female Saudi flight attendants on Saudi Arabia’s national carrier. The women who have been employed as flight attendants on Saudia are generally from Morocco and Great Britian, as well as other countries.
In 2010 Saudia surprisingly announced it was recruiting women as sales staff. “We will employ women as ticket sales ladies in all parts of the Kingdom from next year,” Saudi Airlines passenger services director, Saad Al Seuleiman, said then in a statement to the local Saudi media. However, he stressed, “They will be deployed in places assigned specially for them away from the main terminals…they will work in places confined only to women…the policy of Saudi Airlines is clear in not allowing women to mix with men.”
AFP quoted the Saudi news website Sabq.org as saying the country’s official fatwa issuing body, the Committee on Scholarly Work and Ifta, had reiterated that it is not permissible for a woman to work in a place where they mix with men. “It is necessary to keep away from places where men congregate. Women should look for decent work that does not make it possible for them to attract men or be attracted by men,” the fatwa warned.
Also in 2010 Saudi’s Panda retail chain had employed 16 Saudi women as cashiers and as part of a pilot scheme to test the concept of women working in a mixed environment. It was faced with a Facebook campaign threatening to boycott the shop unless it stops employing women.