JEDDAH: Only a few years ago women in Saudi Arabia were still restricted to working in what we can call the “wrong professions.”
When the Saudi government decided to allow women to work in lingerie shops two years ago, conservatives opposed the decision. The government, however, stuck to its plan and went ahead with the pro-women decision, making sure women can take up jobs of their choice in a suitable working environment that is appropriate for the local culture.
The past two years have brought huge changes. People are no longer shocked to see women working in retails shops. Indeed, it is now commonplace to see Saudi women working as cashiers in shopping malls and taking up jobs that used to be male-dominated areas, such as jewelry shops, electronics stores and in cafes, where their work as waitresses has helped to challenge the negative perceptions of this profession.
These working women started their careers with courage and confidence, proving to society that they are capable of doing anything and are a key element in contributing to the Kingdom’s economy.
“Seeing women working in new jobs plays a part in empowering them and this is what Vision 2030 is aiming for. It is also making people more open-minded about it,” said Sara Maimanat, who is a university student and a full-time barista and waitress at Boho Art Café, a new place in Jeddah.
She said her experience has been wonderful; it brought her a lot of practice and a lot of fun, working here with other female baristas. It’s her first job, and people, including her parents and grandparents, have accepted it. “It brought out my personality,” said Maimanat.
Sara Halawani, another full-time barista in the cafe who works 8 hours a day and 6 days a week, said that her parents were hesitant when she told them she wanted to work as barista and waitress in the coffee shop. However, when they saw her so passionate about coffee, they supported her and gave her the opportunity to try. Her colleague Ayat Dhahi, finished her master’s studies abroad and came back to Saudi Arabia looking for jobs in her field, but struggled to find one. Then she saw an advertisement about a vacancy in a coffee shop for baristas and waitresses.
“My family, especially my brothers, were conservative about it, but when my brother visited me in the coffee shop, he was happy and said he never imagined the environment in a coffee shop would be suitable,” she said.
“I personally feel that I inspired other girls by working as a barista. By our encouraging them, those girls will be motivated to work in these new jobs, which will in turn contribute to the economy of Saudi Arabia,” said Dhahi.
Many women in Saudi Arabia had limited options when looking for work. They worked as teachers or in governmental jobs. But in Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is committed to increasing the employment rate among Saudi women from 22 to 30 percent. This is beginning to be realized as more women take up new jobs and are given the opportunity to be part of the workforce, part of the Kingdom’s economic wheel of development.
Ghazal Ghunaim, who works in Fauchon, a Paris-based restaurant in Jeddah that opened last month, said that she really likes it when she gets the support of the customers. Most of them tell her and her colleagues how proud they are in seeing Saudi girls working as waitresses. She added saying that she never faced any resistance from her family when she first wanted to work as a waitress.
“The only challenge I faced was with myself. I’m a very shy person, and I have slight difficulties speaking to strangers. However, by working as a waitress I overcame this fear,” said Ghunaim.