Would having hospitals run exclusively by women — from doctors to janitors — be a better environment for women? This is a proposition that the Ministry of Health is currently studying.One field where women are gaining prestige in the Arab world was highlighted today as twin suicide bombings in Iraq were both done by women.
Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, recently proposed the establishment of women-only hospitals during a symposium in Riyadh entitled “Applying religion in medical issues.” Describing intermingling of sexes at hospitals as a “disaster” that infringes upon the modesty of Muslim societies, the mufti said medical professionals should only treat patients of the same gender except in time of emergencies.
Dr. Khaled Mirghalani, official spokesman for the Ministry of Health, said the ministry was considering the establishment of such hospitals, but he added that the move has nothing to do with the mufti’s recommendation.
“The ministry has been considering women-only hospitals for a long time. Such hospitals would be for specialties related to women, such as gynecology and obstetrics, but would have male staff. However, women employees will have preference,” he said.
Mirghalani said the Kingdom was not self-sufficient in terms of the number of Saudi doctors it needs. Only 20 percent of total doctors in the Kingdom are Saudi. “Having women-only hospitals is still being studied. More girls might consider going to medical schools when they are guaranteed that they can work in a women-only environment. But this is not a necessity now as there are already a large number of girls enrolling in medical schools, especially at the King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. Medicine is after all a humane job and it must be thought of in that way,” he added.
The idea of having single-gender hospitals has attracted mixed reactions from women. Some women feel such hospitals would be convenient, while others are against them.
Amani Henaidi said she would prefer using a women’s only hospital. “It would be more practical and easier. Since it is possible, then why not?” she said. “Of course it would be more private, because I don’t have to worry about hijab while I’m in pain and all of those things,” she said.
Fatima said such hospitals would “only serve those conservative close-minded people who would leave their wives to die because there is no woman doctor on the night shift.”
Samia asks whether other women-only establishments have been successful. She said that women-only shopping centers in Jeddah have been unsuccessful in attracting women. The idea of employing saleswomen in lingerie shops has also been unsuccessful. “Hospitals include maintenance team, engineers, and other staff other than doctors and nurses. How would the minister of health tour women-only hospitals? How could that be possible? What would the situation in case of a fire or other emergencies when the interference of men is necessary?” she asked.
Perhaps the reason that women are underrepresented in medical professions, and gaining in non-technical pursuits such as suicide bombings, is because they are illiterate:
Nearly one in three people in the Arab world is illiterate, including nearly half of all women in the region, the Tunis-based Arab League Educational Cultural and Scientific Organisation said Monday. Three-quarters of the 100 million people unable to read or write in the 21 Arab countries are aged between 15 and 45 years old, the Arab League group, known by its acronym ALECSO, said in a statement, cited by AFP.The first phrase of that article proves the point nicely!