By Amal Al-Sibai
The municipality of Ha’il has constructed a large complex of small shops to rent out to women who have been running their businesses on the sidewalks of shopping areas, schools, and mosques.
The objective of founding this souk by the municipality and reserving it for women was to ease the plight of the women who opened and operated stalls under the scorching sun in the summer and merciless cold winds in the winter.
However, some of these simple businesswomen are complaining that the souk has missed its purpose and that it has failed to help them because the store rental fees that the municipality has demanded are too high.
Under the roof of this shopping complex, that is similar to the traditional Saudi souks,there are a total of 104 stores to be leased at a fee of SR400 per month. Many women who have been asked to transfer their sidewalk stalls to stores in the souk claim that they cannot afford to pay the monthly rent.
A source from the Ha’il municipality responded by stating in Okaz newspaper that in comparison to the expenses involved in building the souk and maintaining, the monthly fee of SR400 is reasonable, and actually very low. The souk not only provides a place to sell their commodities, but it is also supplied with electricity, air conditioning, lighting and all other safety precautions.
Nura who had a humble business on the sidewalk of a shopping area in Ha’il told Okaz, “Women like me who work in this type of business used to brace all sorts of fluctuating weather conditions to earn an honest living. We rejoiced when we heard about the municipality’s new shopping complex with rows of shops for women only. Much to my disappointment, the rent that the municipality has asked for is too high and I cannot guarantee that I will be able to pay up every month on time. I would rather stay on the sidewalks selling my items rather than take the risk of not being able to fulfill my side of the bargain, which is paying SR400 a month. I feel torn between two tough choices.”
Other women whose businesses were composed of a big red rug, miscellaneous items, and snacks to sell agree that the cost of renting a shop sounds comforting, but they are not sure if they would be able to pay the municipality the price it demands.
Fahaida told Okaz, “On behalf of myself and other women who work in the neighborhood, I urge the municipality to reduce the price of renting stores in the women’s souk.
For many of us, our children and families depend on our small businesses for their livelihood and we fear that not much of the profit we gain each month will be left over after paying for the store’s rent.”