JEDDAH: The empowerment and economic inclusion of Saudi women are necessary steps for the creation of a more productive society that supports improved economic growth. This was the conclusion of a discussion on Wednesday hosted by the G20’s women’s engagement group, W20.
The virtual meeting of the group, which is organized and presided over by Saudi non-profit Al-Nahda Philanthropic Society for Women, concluded the national dialogues on Saudi women’s economic participation. The panelists presented and discussed a number of recommendations for government entities designed to facilitate the professional development and empowerment of women in the economy, technology and entrepreneurship.
“These dialogues highlighted the Kingdom’s efforts to empower women economically, and what was (previously) discussed in (a) closed session on Tuesday confirms that we still have a lot of work to do,” said Princess Moudi Bint Khalid, chair of Al-Nahda Society’s board of directors. “We hope that these sessions will have a significant impact on the development of policies and programs aimed at empowering women, and activate monitoring and follow-up systems.”
The recommendations focused on four areas: financial inclusion, digital inclusion, labor inclusion and inclusive decision-making, with women’s entrepreneurship a common thread running through them all.
The participants highlighted the crucial importance of financial inclusion as a key driver of financial independence and capacity building for women, which builds confidence and effective participation in their country’s economy.
“The current crisis has raised awareness of the need to improve production and increase productivity to a higher level, meaning (there is) a crucial need to involve women more in the market,” said Saudi entrepreneur Lateefa Al-Walan.
She presented the group’s initial recommendations for the empowerment of women in the field of entrepreneurship, which included: offering support through the increased inclusion of women in professional groups, societies and networks; more training in financial literacy and investment; and the establishment of a minimum quota for the number of places for women on organization’s governing boards.
“Entrepreneurship is the largest sustainable resource for any country, and especially so during the current crisis,” said Al-Walan. “Growing businesses also help in diversifying sources of income and raising domestic product. By supporting them, we enable the country’s biggest goals relating to the empowerment of the private sector.”
She added that sustained high-level engagement by, and commitment of, women are essential to challenging the stereotypes about their abilities.
Most of panelists agreed that social behaviors and legal restrictions are among the greatest obstacles to the advancement and empowerment of women in Saudi Arabia. While many of the legal obstacles are being removed as a result of the ongoing reforms in the Kingdom, it can be more difficult and take longer to alter deep-rooted social behavior and challenge stereotypes.
“Changing women’s perceptions about themselves is essential for success in entrepreneurship because working in this field is risky and needs courage and confidence,” added Al-Walan.
Shahd Attar, executive director of the technology and communications department at the Ministry of Investment presented recommendations for digital inclusion. She stressed the necessity of considering the needs of all sections of society when designing and creating technical tools, so that the final product does not have any in-built bias.
“Our main recommendation is to promote the equal participation of women in the design and development of technology, and that they must be at the heart of the creation of the technical solution and not only as consumers of technology,” Attar said.
She agreed with Al-Walan that stereotypes can create uncertainty or lack of confidence in women about pursuing a career or developing their abilities in technical fields.
Mounirah Al-Qahtani, a public policy consultant at Saudi Aramco, said that changes to the law are the main driver of social change.
She presented recommendations designed to improve the inclusion of women in the workforce. These mainly focused on the removal of discriminatory, gender-based labor laws and the promotion of equal rights for women and men, including paternity leave and improved child care services, to increase the sense or responsibility among Saudi families.
Salma Al-Rashed, director of Al-Nahda Society’s development program, said the organization will work with governmental institutions to encourage the adoption of W20 recommendations.
Saudi Arabia holds the presidency of the G20 this year and the group’s annual summit is due to be held in Riyadh in November. The W20 if one of several independent engagement groups, led by organizations from the host country, that focus on different sections and sectors of society and develop policy recommendations for consideration by G20 leaders.