JEDDAH: ARAB NEWS
Published — Monday 25 March 2013
Last update 25 March 2013 9:34 am
Saudi Arabia has one of the lowest female participation rates in the work force in the region, a recent World Bank report has found.
“The employment of women stands at less than 12 percent. This puts Saudi Arabia at the 11th position in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA),” Al-Riyadh daily reported, quoting a World Bank report on gender equality and development in the region.
While female participation in the work force grew to above 50 percent in the Africa, Asia and Pacific region, Europe, Central Asia, Latin America and Caribbean over the past 15 years, participation in the MENA region has lagged behind at 25.2 percent, the report said.
The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait topped the list with at least a 45 percent increase in women’s employment.
The report also noted that some governments in the Gulf pay allowance to men, which discourages women from seeking employment.
According to statistical reports, only 14.6 percent of women work in the public and private sectors in the Kingdom. When expatriates are also included in the calculation, the percentage of working Saudi women further drops to 6.1 percent, the daily reported.
The Labor Ministry strives to bridge the gap between genders with a mandatory ban on men or non-Saudi women working in lingerie and other stores where women’s garments and perfumes are sold.
The ministry has also appointed women inspectors to monitor commercial centers and markets and has ensured that only Saudi women work in such establishments. The Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs has ordered the issue of licenses to small establishments such as those of "productive families" in which women can engage in various trades while working from home.
One of the impediments that slow down women’s employment in the Kingdom is social apathy. The traditional view in Muslim societies is that a man should work while a woman should remain a stay-at-home mother.
However, the Ministry of Labor recently signed an agreement with the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, which also seeks to increase job opportunities for women.
Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheq, a Saudi thinker, wrote in a recent column that the chances of Saudi women finding work have slightly improved, but that improvement has been quite limited and that employment rates are still extremely low. “In 2012, there were 647,000 Saudi working women compared to 505,000 in 2009," the writer said.