Saudi Government Offices- Women’s only sections

Saudi-Arabia is a gender segregated society where government offices are no exception to the rule. Women are not allowed in the main buildings at all because their male family members are supposed to take care of most of the woman’s issues. However there are specific much smaller sections for the women, usually located in a separate building or at the side or back of the main building.They are frustratingly bureaucratic places that operate with stone-aged policies.

There will be a male security guard watching the door and letting women enter into the female only office. The door is kept locked to prevent the dubious men prowling the area from running in to see unveiled women. Just kidding.

Inside are female security officers and other office workers in normal clothing. The places are pretty unorganised and confusing especially to a first time visitor. Just like in the main building, the women are also forced to wait in line at one window after another to get anything done. Lots of stamping and shuffling of papers goes on. The only difference is women’s sections are not as crowded and the most important things can be done in the men’s (main) office ONLY.

Women are required to sign all paperwork by stamping their thumb on the forms. I’ve never heard it being compulsory for men, unless the man is illiterate. Note even if the women are literate and fully capable of signing their own names, this ancient practise is compulsory for them.

The illiteracy rate among the older generations and especially women is quite high. This of course poses great difficulties especially for women without a mahram (male guardian)to help. If no male family member is able to write documents for them or they are unwilling to help, there are places these women can go to to get their paperwork done. Men offering secretarial help to write documents can be found near to government buildings. They will have simple old school typewriters, they usually sit on the ground on a carpet which they made a temporary office on.

We (or I) had to go to one of these women’s sections to stamp some papers for our marriage permission application. On the way there I overheard a woman accompanied by her daughter approaching one of these men to help make a complaint about her husband. Apparently the husband had not showed up for over six months after he had taken a new wife. She had no other male relatives to support them financially or willing to help them get the husband to start paying the bills and providing food.

I can’t even imagine how hard and frustrating her situation must have been. Basically this woman and probably countless of others can’t get any legal action done without a man. They are just left hanging on a thread. Women in Saudi-Arabia are forced to be so dependant on men. Nothing can be accomplished without a man!  Even running the women’s section of a government office needs a Saudi male to function!

I’m lucky I was out of the office relatively quickly, although not a single woman in there (not even the legal advisor/lawyer of some sort) spoke English. I survived with body language and broken Arabic. The lawyer lady asked me was I sure I wanted to marry a Saudi guy? After I had convinced her that I was indeed serious, she handed me the documents and an ink pad. I could not believe I was being asked to sign with my thumb. What was this, the stone ages? It made me smile but it also made me sad to see how Saudi women were treated by their own government.


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  • The Burdened MaryJanuary 9, 2011 - 6:40 pm

    Think about all the jobs that could be made if women were able to manage the separate female section of these offices! And what are they thinking, having some things only done in the men’s office? Sometimes I wonder if it is someone’s job to make things as inconvenient as possible :P

    I hope that woman was able to successfully make that complaint…it is true that women are forced to be dependent on men and she could find herself in a very bad situation if there is some kind of emergency.ReplyCancel

  • HeliJanuary 10, 2011 - 6:20 pm

    Reading your post, I started wondering how do you get things done if you are for example a european woman working in KSA and don’t have any male relatives living there with you? Who do you send to take care of matters that only men are allowed to take care of?ReplyCancel

  • LaylahJanuary 10, 2011 - 9:17 pm

    Burdened Mary- You’re absolutely right, so many jobs could be created by just allowing for all the matters to be taken care of at womens sections too!

    Heli-Actually for a european woman working here there will be no need to go to these places. The sponsor (employee) takes care of all matters for them. Hope that answered your question!ReplyCancel

  • UMAIRMay 21, 2012 - 10:33 pm

    dis is da reason why saudi arabia is among the list of peacful countries.. see robbery.. crime.. assasination.. self assasination.. and other crime rates upto 1% comparing different countries.. due to following islamic law.. and they are happy to follow these law.. no one is un happy.. just go and ask them.. dont talk here on internet go and ask thier ladies.. are you happy in this or wanna goReplyCancel

  • […] one point I had to go to a government office females section (read more about that here) and managed to hide my then 7 months pregnant belly from the employees in my over the head abaya. […]ReplyCancel

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