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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Saudi women to train for civil defence
Mecca city governor, Prince Abdulmajeed bin Abdul Aziz, visits the fire-damaged girls school
Fifteen girls died in the fire
The Saudi authorities are reported to have launched a campaign to train women in civil defence skills.

A report in the London-based newspaper Alsharq al-Awsat says the first phase of the campaign will begin on 12 May.

Senior civil defence officer Major Fahd Al-Nafei was quoted as saying that thousands of female teachers would be trained in first aid, fire extinguishers, evacuation of females from schools and other sites.

The move follows an incident earlier this year, when 15 school girls were crushed to death in a stampede after a fire broke out in their school.

The high number of casualties was officially attributed to lack of safety precautions, but there were also reports that rescue workers were blocked by zealous religious police.

These reports were later rejected by the authorities as false.

But the incident led to the sacking of the head of the girls' education department and its merger with the education ministry.

Restricted role

A new charter was approved in April last year allowing women to volunteer for civil defence work.

But the charter does not allow women to undertake tasks which "contravene Islamic rules and traditions".

The role of women in Saudi Arabia is heavily restricted by Sharia law, and work opportunities are limited mainly to the health and education sectors.

Women have to wear veils in public and cannot travel without the approval of a husband or father.

Schools in the kingdom are segregated by gender.

See also:

25 Mar 02 | Middle East
Cleric sacked over Saudi school fire
18 Mar 02 | Middle East
Saudi minister backs religious police
15 Mar 02 | Middle East
Saudi police 'stopped' fire rescue
11 Mar 02 | Middle East
Schoolgirls die in Mecca stampede
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Saudi Arabia
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