P.K. Abdul Ghafour, Arab News
Wednesday 11 April 2007
Last Update 11 April 2007 12:00 am
JEDDAH, 11 April 2007 — The eighth five-year development plan (2005-2009) aims to improve the situation of Saudi women by providing them with more business and job opportunities, said Economy and Planning Minister Khaled Al-Gosaibi.
Gosaibi expects that by the end of the plan period, the percentage of women in the Saudi work force will increase from a mere 5.4 percent to 14.2 percent. “The number of working women in the Kingdom is very small compared to other countries,” the minister said.
The plan, which was approved by the Cabinet in November 2005, places greater emphasis on the potential role of women in the economy and the need to create more employment opportunities for them. It also identifies ways to achieve such female participation by upgrading the capabilities of Saudi women, and removing obstacles that constrain their increased participation in economic and development activities.
The plan perceives an increased share of the national work force in total manpower (both employed and unemployed) from 36.9 percent in 2004 to 39.2 percent in 2009, along with continued efforts to raise women’s participation rate from 10.3 percent at the beginning of the plan to 14.2 percent by the end of the plan.
The plan has envisaged two particular objectives relevant to women empowerment. The first is to strengthen family by maintaining Arab and Islamic values, affording adequate care to family members and creating conditions that are conducive to the development of capabilities and talents for each member of a family.
The second goal is to increase women’s participation in various fields, both within the family and at work, by providing greater opportunities for decision-making and by adopting approaches that lead to the empowerment of women in terms of education, health and employment.
“Having a national five-year plan with these objectives is an obvious achievement for women in view of the historical development of the Kingdom,” said a report by the UN Development Program (UNDP). It observed that the lack of optimum employment of human resources, including women, has led to the increased reliance on foreign manpower. It also called for strong labor market structures to channel the work force to the most productive sectors of the economy with more dependence on the local work force.
The current statistics of the labor market by nationality (Saudis versus non-Saudis) indicate that 32.6 percent of the national workers are employed in service jobs, while 39 percent of non-Saudis are employed in the production and transportation sectors, with 28.4 percent of non-Saudis working in the service sectors.
Presently, Saudi women are extensively employed in the educational and health sectors, leaving other productive sectors, particularly in the private sector, to the domination of men. “There is a need for national planners to decide the ideal mix of economic sectors ... to become a diversified economic base that does not rely on oil and natural gas,” the UNDP said.
The number of women graduates has outnumbered their male counterparts, as girls constitute 56.5 percent of the total number of graduates in recent years. These graduates must be given adequate opportunities and incentives, Gosaibi said.