Saudi Arabia named world leader for reforms advancing economic role for women

Women’s increasing role in society and contribution to business and nation-building has expanded in line with the Vision 2030 strategy. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 18 January 2020

Saudi Arabia named world leader for reforms advancing economic role for women

  • World Bank report and Saudi women in business laud Vision 2030 for ‘turning dreams into reality’

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has been named as one of the world’s most transformative nations for advancing the economic role of women in society.

The World Bank’s annual “Women, Business, and the Law” report has ranked the Kingdom top among 190 countries for its progress in bringing about reforms related to female involvement in economic development and entrepreneurship.   

And Saudi women in business have lauded the Vision 2030 strategy for being the key driver in helping them to realize their ambitions.

According to the bank’s figures for 2020, the Kingdom scored 70.6 out of 100 for progress achieved in the integration of women into the labor market. The report’s findings also placed the country first among Gulf states, and second in the Arab world for meeting the criteria.

The study revealed that Saudi Arabia made significant improvements on six out of eight indicators, namely mobility, workplace, marriage, childcare, entrepreneurship, and retirement, while maintaining its rank in the asset and property index.

The Kingdom made the biggest improvement globally in enacting reforms in six out of eight areas including women’s mobility, sexual harassment, retirement age, and economic activity.

On the number of women applying and being accepted into the Saudi workforce, Wadha Bin Zarah, the women empowerment director at the Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), said: “The number has increased sufficiently with rapid growth. I believe that inclusiveness and diversity are two key factors to any successful entity.

“Among the G20 countries, Saudi Arabia has scored the highest growth in the participation of women in the workforce. Moreover, recruitment and human resources practices have never shown any discrimination against women when it comes to wages. One scale is used for all, and any benefits are calculated on merit, not sex.”

Zarah added: “Vision 2030 targets stated a specific quota for female participation in the workforce, which is to rise from 22 percent to 30 percent by 2030, with all sectors aligning their key performance indicators and goals to achieve that target.”

FASTFACTS

• Saudi women in business have lauded the Vision 2030 strategy for being the key driver in helping them to realize their ambitions.

• The Kingdom, according to World Bank figures for 2020, scored 70.6 out of 100 for progress achieved in the integration of women into the labor market.

• Saudi Arabia received a maximum score of 100 in the categories of mobility, workplace, entrepreneurship and retirement.

In addition, Saudi Arabia received a maximum score of 100 in the categories of mobility, workplace, entrepreneurship, and retirement. This achievement was due to changes in laws and regulations related to women aimed at enhancing their role in economic development and boosting the Kingdom’s competitiveness at regional and international levels.

Included among reforms highlighted in the Kingdom were the granting of travel rights for women aged over 21, the renewal of documents for all family members, unifying the retirement age between men and women and aligning them with the work system, and new rules to protect women from discrimination in workplace, especially with regard to employment and salaries.

Bayan Barry, partner account manager at Cisco Systems, said: “In 2006 we started with the first batch (of female employees) which was limited to two or three. That number has increased to around 44 women, working alongside 170 male colleagues, with different experiences from technical, sales, operations, project management and marketing.

“Currently, we are having a phase of internship within our company locally in Saudi and are proud to say that 12 female interns have shown their outstanding skills, including nine technical and three project managers.

“Women have been striving to expand their growth and show their value but in the past, it was not always been that easy. Many were lucky to have a supportive family, but chances were minimal,” added Barry.

“It is a moment of pride being in the right era, where we have the great support of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in promoting more women in the labor force and believing in us to show our utmost value.

Vision 2030 targets stated a specific quota for female participation in the workforce, which is to rise from 22 percent to 30 percent by 2030, with all sectors aligning their key performance indicators and goals to achieve that target.

Wadha Bin Zarah, Women empowerment director, Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology

“Companies have started to race toward the national transformation aligning with Vision 2030. We are at a pace like never before of women empowerment, with many role models nationwide. We have started to penetrate more into segments we never thought of being in, while showing our impact and driving organizations onto more success.

“Percentage has shown how diversity has created new ideas and successful business results, and a high return on investments where inclusion and collaboration of both genders has been working hand in hand,” said Barry.

The bank’s report pointed out that Vision 2030 had contributed to boosting the implementation of these reforms, as it emphasized the importance of the role of women in ambitious plans to develop the country.

These have included the adoption of a range of initiatives and goals to support the empowerment of women, including raising the percentage of female participation in the labor market from 22 percent to 30 percent.

Nora Al-Kordi, a VAT manager with professional services firm Ernst & Young, said: “Every woman has the right to think that they are of value, to believe in themselves, and deserve every possible opportunity to achieve their dreams.

“Vision 2030 has turned dreams into reality, through empowering women and making what once was deemed impossible easy to reach through hard work and perseverance.”

The World Bank’s “Women, Business, and the Law” report is issued annually and aims at evaluating the level of gender discrimination in regulations related to economic development and entrepreneurship in 190 countries around the globe.


From royals to roundabouts: The German architect who made his mark on Saudi Arabia

German architect Wolfgang Zuppe has designed some of Saudi Arabia’s most monumental structures and prestigious palaces. (Supplied)
Updated 59 min 19 sec ago

From royals to roundabouts: The German architect who made his mark on Saudi Arabia

  • Wolfgang Zuppe, who arrived in Kingdom 37 years ago, says: ‘There is nowhere else I could do such fantastic projects’

JEDDAH: When German architect Wolfgang Zuppe arrived in Saudi Arabia 37 years ago to begin a new phase of his career, little did he imagine that he would design some of the country’s most monumental structures and prestigious palaces.

“There was an article in a newspaper, an invitation for architects to meet for projects,” he said. “I applied and they were impressed, and I made the transition — that was 37 years ago, about 1983.”
Prior to his move to the Kingdom, Zuppe — who was born in Kleve, Germany — had lived and worked in Tehran in the time of the Shah. With the change of regime, he was forced to leave his life of luxury there and return to his home country, where he spotted the advert that would change the course of his life.
“I got into architecture because it combines art and buildings; architecture was my dream, and I was totally right,” he said. “It led to many interesting things happening in my life and it is why I continued to rise, to the point where I designed two palaces for Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, along with other members of the royal family upon his recommendation.”
Zuppe spoke fondly of the late Prince Sultan, agreeing with the general consensus that the people loved him. In his wallet, he carries four photos of himself and his wife with the prince. When he proudly shows them to the people he meets, he said many respond with favorable comments about the prince and words of admiration.
Prior to meeting Prince Sultan for the first time, Zuppe was told by his manager to make sure no one else was present. When the day came, the architect sat with his wife in their home awaiting the prince, who was due to arrive at 6 p.m.
“At exactly six o’clock, the door opened and in he walked, by himself, no security or police or a driver,” said Zuppe. “He was very happy with the design when he saw the sketches.”
He recalls the prince was delighted and said: “Oh, it’s nice — helo, helo (the Arabic word for beautiful).”
Not every royal was so personable and down to earth, the architect added, savoring the memory of what happened next.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Prior to his move to the Kingdom, Zuppe — who was born in Kleve, Germany — had lived and worked in Tehran in the time of the Shah. With the change of regime, he was forced to leave his life of luxury there and return to his home country, where he spotted the advert that would change the course of his life.

• Wolfgang Zuppe has worked on countless commercial projects, including hotels, malls and airports, but one of his most distinctive designs is the huge ‘Compass Structure,’ a monumental landmark that decorates Al-Handasa roundabout in Jeddah. It features giant models of technical-drawing tools, including a compass, protractor, set square and ruler.

• In recognition of his work over the years in the Kingdom, Zuppe was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2014 by the president of Germany, Joachim Gauck.

“Then he asked me, ‘Don’t you have any tea?’ and in response I told him what the manager had said,” Zuppe continued. “He stood up, took my arm and asked me where the kitchen was, so I led him to the kitchen. We went there, with this man who was to be the crown prince, in my kitchen. He took hold of the kettle, filled it with water from the tap, switched on the gas himself, put the kettle on the stove and we waited for the water to boil. Then he said, ‘Now we make tea for your wife.’”
Zuppe said he had met many important, high-ranking people, but none quite like Prince Sultan. For someone of the prince’s status to be so down to earth, Zuppe considered him a real man.
It was an incredible moment in Zuppe’s life, but his journey to get there had not been easy. His relationship with his mother was respectful and loving, but his father was not very supportive or understanding when his son rejected the family business in favor of studying architecture.
“He told me, ‘You will come on your knees to me, begging: “Please let me come to do something for you. I want money from you, I don’t have any.’’’ To this day, I never forgot it. I respect my father but I’m not as close to him as I am to my mother,” he said.
Zuppe proved his father wrong, not only designing palaces for Prince Sultan but for other royals, including a 3,000-square-meter palace for a princess whose name he is not at liberty to reveal.
“I made some sketches for her straightaway in the same hour I met her, on a piece of paper on the table,” he said. “She said, ‘Oh, interesting. I’m already working with seven other architects and I fly to London tomorrow. Could you come to London?’ I said, ‘With pleasure.’”
Zuppe paused to pull out two large sketches of the elaborate two-story palace. When he presented them to the princess, he said, she was flabbergasted and could only say, “It’s wonderful.” It was the start of a collaboration with one of his most esteemed clients.
“When I showed her my drawings, I didn’t bother asking how much the payment was — all I cared about was the prestige and not the fortune,” he said. “I never asked and I didn’t need a contact; but I got good money and, from time to time, the princess would place money in my hand before I left.”

Looking toward the future, Wolfgang Zuppe has no plans to retire and hopes to be a part of upcoming Saudi projects, including the NEOM smart city, and design more palaces. (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)

Zuppe has worked on countless commercial projects, including hotels, malls and airports, but one of his most distinctive designs is the huge “Compass Structure,” a monumental landmark that decorates Al-Handasa roundabout in Jeddah. It features giant models of technical-drawing tools, including a compass, protractor, set square and ruler.
When he is not working, Zuppe can often be found riding one of the five motorcycles he owns. His love of the machines goes back a long time, and has rubbed off on his wife and daughter.
“While studying at Berlin University, I took some time off and went to Japan,” he said. “I saw a small motorcycle, something that cost (the equivalent of SR300) and I bought it. I had never taken lessons or had any experience, but I got it and now I’ve got a Yamaha VMAX. It’s fun and liberating, and I’m very happy to see women try it here in Saudi Arabia.”
In recognition of his work over the years in the Kingdom, Zuppe was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2014 by the president of Germany, Joachim Gauck.
Looking toward the future, he has no plans to retire and hopes to be a part of upcoming Saudi projects, including the NEOM smart city, and design more palaces.
“There is nowhere else I could do such fantastic projects,” he said, adding that this is why he has been happy to remain in Saudi Arabia for so long.