Speaking on the sidelines of the Saudi-UK CEO Forum in London, the minister said that women being able to drive was “insignificant in the wider scheme of things.”
“What matters,” he said, “is making sure that they have access to skills training and access to jobs. What matters is they have access to investment opportunities so we ensure that the power of women is unleashed to represent their great capabilities.”
Al-Falih added: “There is great potential for all Saudi citizens … certainly women will have more than their share, which should be more than 50 percent.”
Saudi Arabia has announced a string of reforms in recent months aimed at improving opportunities for women in the Kingdom. Alongside being able to drive, Saudi Arabia’s women can now join the Shoura Council, license their own businesses and take part in sports, among many other new freedoms in a country that is in the throes of modernization and change.
Speaking at the same event on a panel, Princess Reema bint Bandar, vice president of the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia, said that women joining the Shoura Council has allowed for the “escalation of women’s needs.”
Princess Reema added the creation of a sports ecosystem for women would be critical to job creation and female empowerment.
She said: “It will benefit women to be included in sports. We want to focus on the ecosystem – we are looking for females that are engineers in the stadiums or trainers which will enable the athletes, for example … which all leads to the end product of the ecosystem: The female athlete.”
Saudi Deputy Minister of Labor Tamader Al-Rammah told the audience that contrary to some global perceptions, women’s empowerment started in Saudi Arabia in the 1960s with the provision of extensive education for females.
“(Women’s empowerment) has been slow but steady,” she said. “Today we are ready for it and we can see the changes are happening rapidly.”
On the controversial subject of gender quotas, Al-Rammah said: “I think the best way to do it is to have the best person for each position. On the other hand, you should remove all barriers to that position.
“Perhaps after some time, we’ll decide that we need quotas. In the meantime, Saudi Arabian women are not shy and the men support us. I don’t think we will need quotas, we will get there.”
Al-Rammah added that the need to funnel women into the workplace was “urgent.”
“We are in a time where we don’t have time,” she said.
Al-Rammah added 95 percent of new Saudi jobs will require digital skills. She said: “It’s very important to set that online goal now. It’s important women get online. What’s making me not sleep at night is not whether women drive, it’s whether they are equipped for the future digitally.”