Segregation Of The Medical Profession

05 January 2017

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

In a land often accused of extremes, there is bound to be a varying degree of opinions on what constitutes proper social norms. Having said that, one must understand that this is a diverse land with a varied degree of opinion on just about everything. What plays in the west of the country may not play in the north. What is acceptable in the south may be rejected in the east.

So when one group seeks to promote their specific social agenda, it is bound to raise controversy. Some time ago, a Saudi woman's call for gender segregation in the medical profession attracted the support of a number of men and women, including some nurses. She said, ''we live in a special society,'' and that she was disturbed at the level of mingling between the sexes in medical institutions and launched a social campaign against it, encouraged by the backing of other women.

Their argument was that women-only hospitals ''would increase the number of Saudi women doctors and nurses, whose numbers are very low now because their parents will not allow them to join the medical profession for fear of gender-mixing.'' They also stated that ''many young men are reluctant to marry nurses because of rumors that they indulge in secret relations with their male colleagues.''

Spurred by the notion that there was a lack of privacy and freedom to work in today's hospital environment, the women wanted government hospitals run by women in order to ''provide a clean, healthy and Shariah-compliant environment for women working in the health sector and to increase job opportunities for them.'' They argued that such women-only hospitals would help reduce unemployment among educated Saudi women who specialize in medical sciences, creating work opportunities for women doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technicians and administrators.

A Saudi supporter and a nurse added that qualified Saudi women refuse to work in hospitals because of the presence of men and the perceived social stigma, saying that nurses are reluctant to work in hospitals even though they have studied nursing. She said that she had to give up her job because of this bad reputation, especially as she is not yet married. ''I will return to my job if I find a husband who understands the nature of my work. This call for women-only hospitals has given me hope that I might go back to work again,'' she said.

An administrator at a government hospital in Jeddah said, ''I saw with my own eyes women mixing with men and I saw women being sexually harassed.'' He hoped that there would be women-only hospitals in the Kingdom sooner or later, adding that if this happened he would agree to his wife being employed in the medical profession.

Religious scholars have also had their say on this subject, stating that they have long been calling for such institutions of health. Ayed Al-Garni, a scholar who usually gets his thoughts across in the media, said, ''We have long called for the establishment of special hospitals for women that will preserve their dignity and provide them with job opportunities…Such hospitals will open the door for women to find employment, especially those who are widowed or divorced and have no one to support them.''

However, the argument for women-only medical facilities raises some question. For example, what if a husband has to rush his wife to one of these hospitals for a medical emergency? Would he be barred from entry?
Rather than restricting institutions of health in such a manner, give female patients the opportunity of choosing the gender of their physician.

But above all, let us begin by demanding stricter sexual harassment laws in the workplace with a zero tolerance policy, as most of the arguments center around this issue. Enforce respect for women if the need arises, with jail sentences awarded to those who fail to respect such laws. Such laws should be applied everywhere.

Just because some of us may not feel comfortable with something is no reason that everything has to change to suit our preferences. There is no substantial reason to tamper with existing practices just because some of us feel we live in a ''special'' society.

— The author can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena

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