WEF praises slow but sure progress in closing Saudi ‘gender gap’

Saudi women work inside the all-female call center in Riyadh. (File photo)
Updated 11 November 2017
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WEF praises slow but sure progress in closing Saudi ‘gender gap’

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is making slow but steady progress toward closing the “gender gap” between men and women in employment, education and health, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).
The WEF expects the recent decision to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia to hasten their participation in society. But women remain well behind global norms in political participation.
Although Saudi Arabia still ranks toward the bottom on the WEF global index of progress toward closing the gender gap in public and social life, it has improved three places over last year to rank 138th globally, and is among the biggest improvers in the years since the report first appeared, according to Saadia Zahidi, the WEF’s head of gender and education.
“Saudi Arabia has actually made the most progress in terms of female economic participation since the report began in 2006. Admittedly it came from a low base, but proportionately it has been significant,” she told Arab News.
“We will only see the effect of the decision to allow women to drive next year, but you can expect that to be positive,” she added.
Another WEF source said: “This report shows how Saudi Arabia is slowly but surely paving the way for a stronger society where women are given the opportunity to live their full potential. Also, keeping in mind all the reforms happening at the moment, next year’s report results seem to be even more promising.”
But it has not been a good year for women elsewhere in the world. For the first time since the WEF report was launched in 2006, the “gender gap” — a measure of progress toward gender equity according to economic, educational, health and political criteria — has widened compared to last year.
Calling it “a bad year in a good decade,” the WEF said that gender equality had decreased in the workplace and politics, especially in some countries with big populations like China and India, which affected the weighted totals.
Among the G-20 countries, France is ranked highest on gender parity at 11th place in the global ranking, followed by Germany (12), the UK (15), Canada (16), South Africa (19) and Argentina (34). The US drops four places to 49, while at the lower end of the group, no fewer than six countries rank at or above 100. These are China (100), India (108), Japan (114), the Republic of Korea (118), Turkey (131) and Saudi Arabia (138).
Overall, 68 percent of the global gender gap has been closed — down slightly from the previous two years — and it will still take 100 years to fully close that gap worldwide, the WEF said.
In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), at the current rate of progress, it will take 157 years to close the gap.
The country closest to fully bridging the gender gap is Iceland, followed by Norway and Finland. Rwanda, with a high number of female politicians, is in fourth place.
Among Arab countries, Tunisia is the highest ranked at 117, followed by the UAE at 120 and Bahrain at 126. “However out of the 17 countries covered by the index in the MENA region this year, 11 countries have improved their overall score compared to last year. The UAE is now very close to closing its gender gap in educational attainment,” the WEF said.
Zahidi said that the lifting of the driving ban in Saudi Arabia was an important factor toward greater female empowerment, but that other measures — like improved, safe public transport and remote digital working — would be needed to help lower-paid women.
She added that the history of Islam had many examples of powerful women who played a full part in business and society.


Saudi Arabia’s first atelier aims to be a hub for Eastern Province artists

Maysa Alrowaished, founder and art director of ‘Canvash,’ poses with a mural in Alkhobar. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 14 November 2018
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Saudi Arabia’s first atelier aims to be a hub for Eastern Province artists

  • Alrowaished added: “The mural embraces the history of Saudi Arabia’s kings before the Kingdom was unified”

DHAHRAN: The art scene in the Kingdom is growing fast. Artists are being adopted by organizations both private and public. One of the private organizations is Canvash, which aims to become a hub for the artists of the Eastern Region.
“Canvish is Dutch for canvas board,” Maysa Alrowaished, the company’s founder and art director, told Arab News. “I won the award for the best entrepreneurial project in the Eastern Province, sponsored by Princess Abeer Al-Saud, for Canvash, and I am thankful that we were given the first atelier license Kingdom-wide after a journey of some serious persuasion attempts.”
Canvash is different from other art businesses. Alrowaished explained: “We try to target the concept of part-time jobbing where the artist can do their nine-to-five daily jobs while at the same time practicing their passion with a paycheck at the end. Now we have around 17 employees between artists and technical supporters.”
Canvash began with their most prominent project; the mural of “Ahal Aloja,” thought to be the longest national mural in the Kingdom, on the Alkhobar Corniche. The mural was named “Ahal Aloja,” which is Arabic for “the people of Aloja,” after the old name of Ad Diriyah, the capital of the first Saudi state.
“The mural embraces the history of Saudi Arabia’s kings before the Kingdom was unified,” Alrowaished added. “It consists of a group of portraits and achievements of the kings, along with their lingering quotes; it then reaches our present time, including Vision 2030, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The ‘Ahal Aloja’ mural received so much hype that it even became a trend on social media with a number of regional media channels covering it.”
On Canvash’s future plans, Alrowaished said: “Along with other ongoing projects, we aim to participate in international and local contests and exhibitions.
“Success tastes sweeter with challenges,” she said when asked about the challenges she faced as the founder of Canvash. Her biggest challenge was convincing the Ministry of Commerce to issue her an atelier license. “There was no such category as atelier when I requested the license. Canvash went through a lot of discussions and a lot of inducements.
“My dream was to open up an actual atelier and so I went all the way to the office of the Ministry of Commerce in Riyadh to conduct a presentation to the head of the Kingdom’s records. Thankfully my case was convincing, so I received the first atelier license in the Kingdom.
“We encountered a problem with some members of society who cannot understand the importance of art,” she added. “However, we found out that the majority are actually thirsty for art and very excited for all creative projects. Whenever we are working on a project, we always get inquiries from people asking where to find our work.
“You also see people enjoy watching us while we work on individual projects as if these are entertainment events in themselves. This is what rewards us when work becomes hectic and tiring. Society is looking forward to such initiatives.”