Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yanbu Women's Park

Yanbu Women's Park
Yanbu Women's Park

Location: Yanbu, Saudi Arabia

Opened: September 2008

Closed: December 25, 2008

Sometimes you'll hear people attack women-only space as reactionary, as something inherently backwards and regressive. As something that's especially entrenched in ultra-religious, anti-woman countries like Saudi Arabia. It's not something we want in "modern" countries, no sir! "Mixed" (male-dominated) spaces are always more "progressive" don't you know.

News flash: Backwards and regressive countries like Saudi Arabia certainly don't like "mixed" spaces. But they're also supremely ambivalent about women-only public space. They basically fear anything that doesn't keep women locked up at home, isolated and depressed. Can't let the ladies get a little fresh air or anything. As for getting a little exercise or....GOD FORBID! SINGING! That is strictly verboten! So back in 2008, the authorities in the city of Yanbu shut down the only outdoor recreation center for women in the town.

Notice that even though the ladies dutifully held "religious lectures for women" on the premises, Yanbu Park was still considered a threat to "religious regulations." And notice how the place was closed down by what we'd call the vice cops. Sound familiar? Interesting that whenever the women folk gather together--whether it's for dancing in a 1950s New York bar or singing in a Saudi Arabian park--the men folk classify it a "vice" matter.

Then there's the matter of economic self-sufficiency. The park provided jobs for women. Also scary! And not allowable. Women must be financially dependent on men!

From Arab News:

YANBU: The Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice closed down the only women’s park in Yanbu on Thursday. The move resulted in the loss of 60 jobs for local women, Al-Watan newspaper reported yesterday.

Suleiman Al-Hamadi, vice chairman of the commission’s Yanbu branch, said the reason for the closure was complaints by people in nearby houses that they were disturbed by the sound of music from the facility. “The commission closed the park with the permission of the local administrator as it received many complaints from local residents about loud music and singing from there,” Al-Hamadi said.

Local women frequented the facility, as it provided health and sports clubs meant exclusively for women.

Shaimah Al-Anazi, owner of the entertainment facility, told the daily that several policemen ordered women and children visitors out from the park and closed the facility without giving any reason for their act.

Muhammad Al-Balawi, chairman of Yanbu Municipal Council, had inaugurated the park last September. The opening function was also attended by Ata Allah Al-Nazawi, director of the General Organization for Social Insurance, and Ibrahim Al-Alouni, director general of Abdul Latif Jameel Social Services Program.

“I will approach the Madinah governor and the chief of the commission to find out the real cause of closing the park, which is the only outdoor entertainment facility for women in this city,” Al-Anazi said. “It was a small village that catered to women’s entertainment needs while conforming to the regulations and Saudi traditions.”

Al-Anazi said she did not get any notice or warning from the authorities before closing the facility in which she had invested SR2 million. She suspected that the commission might have been provoked by an allegation by some people that the facility violated religious regulations.

She said such allegations are baseless and, on the other hand, the facility used to hold frequent religious lectures for women. She added that some people also mounted pressure on the guards in the park to quit their jobs.

Umm Emad, a divorced woman who worked at the park, said she and her three children would have no income to support themselves if the park remained closed.

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