International Women’s Day: The march of female empowerment in Saudi Arabia

Special  Saudi Rodina Maamoun, who employed 19 young women almost entirely replacing the men, sells jewellery at a retail store in Riyadh's Hayat mall on February 19, 2020. (AFP)
Saudi Rodina Maamoun, who employed 19 young women almost entirely replacing the men, sells jewellery at a retail store in Riyadh's Hayat mall on February 19, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 08 March 2022

International Women’s Day: The march of female empowerment in Saudi Arabia

 Saudi Rodina Maamoun, who employed 19 young women almost entirely replacing the men, sells jewellery at a retail store in Riyadh's Hayat mall on February 19, 2020. (AFP)
  • Benefits of reforms evident in galloping pace of female participation in the workforce
  • Female participation in labor force rose to 33 percent at the end of 2020

DUBAI: In recent years the world watched in awe as Saudi Arabia issued a succession of laws to expand the rights and freedoms enjoyed by women. More women are joining the workforce than ever before — the result of economic and social reforms undertaken by the government.

The transformation is evident across the Kingdom, with women now occupying key posts in government departments, the private sector, and in the field of art and entertainment.

The idea of women’s empowerment and increased workforce participation took concrete shape with the launch of the Saudi government’s Vision 2030 reform program in 2016. “Generally, what you are seeing now is a higher participation rate due to the increase in employment opportunities for women across the board,” Norah Alyusuf, chief business planning officer of Vision 2030’s Quality of Life Program Center, told Arab News.

The program seeks to improve the quality of life of residents and visitors to the Kingdom by developing the necessary environment to create more vibrant options that enhance the experience of citizens and residents.

According to Alyusuf, historically, many generations of women were limited in their choice of university majors, owing to the inaccessibility of many roles in the female employment ecosystem in Saudi Arabia.

“But today, the regulatory landscape for women’s employment has drastically empowered women in the workforce in support of Vision 2030,” she said.

“This growing and thriving ecosystem encourages and inspires women’s participation across economic and regulatory drivers. You are seeing more diversity, gender balance and healthy competition.




Norah Ali Alyusuf, Chief Business Planning Officer at the Quality of Life Program Centre and member of the board of the Saudi Polo Federation. (Supplied)

“Women going to university today have the space to be more creative as they have more options now than in the past.”

Alyusuf is a founding board member of the Saudi Polo Federation and is an untiring advocate of women and girls’ participation in sports. Additionally, she is the chairperson of the Desert Polo Event hosted annually by the Royal Commission of AlUla.

She said women not only make up more than 40 percent of the Quality of Life Program Center’s workforce, but are also actively driving the initiatives supporting the Quality of Life mandate.

The seeds of change in the direction of gender equality in Saudi Arabia were sown in the first two decades of the 21st century. In 2013, King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the previously all-male Shoura Council — which advises the government on new legislation — and issued a decree stating that women should always hold at least one-fifth of the council’s 150 seats.

Major changes began in 2015, when women in the Kingdom cast their votes for the first time and were also allowed to contest — for the first time in the country’s history — municipal elections. Then in 2017, King Salman passed an order allowing women to obtain government services such as healthcare and education without the need for permission from a guardian.

More change came in 2018, with the lifting of the ban on women driving, and in 2019, when it became legal for women to obtain passports or travel without the permission of a male guardian.

Despite the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the distaff side globally, women in Saudi Arabia have made rapid social and professional strides on the back of the above-stated reforms.

According to the General Authority for Statistics, female participation in the Kingdom’s workforce rose to 33 percent at the end of 2020, up from 19 percent in 2016.

The growing numbers of women joining the workforce has helped the Kingdom achieve its target of female labor force participation 10 years ahead of time and lifted its international rankings in women’s economic inclusion and empowerment indices.

In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked 147 out of 156 countries.

For 2018-2022, the United Nations Economic and Social Council elected Saudi Arabia to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, and in the World Bank’s 2021 Women, Business and the Law Index, Saudi Arabia scored 80 out of 100, well ahead of the global average.




Somayya Jabarti

“There are doors and windows everywhere now for women in the Kingdom, and where there isn’t one, one is created,” Somayya Jabarti, a seasoned Saudi media professional who now sits on the Shoura Council, told Arab News. Jabarti has the distinction of being appointed in 2014 as the first woman editor of a Saudi national newspaper.

Jabarti says that previously, consent from a male guardian for a woman to work was not required under law, but that it was nevertheless the norm.

“One of the main factors contributing to more Saudi women in the job market is that no one was counting before. We weren’t even on the radar,” she said. “Now, having women in a company is the means to show how progress is being implemented and marked for any establishment or institute.

“Since 2018, there has been a lot of progress across different domains and to a certain extent many people internationally question whether this change is actually being felt or not in Saudi Arabia,” said Jawaher Al-Sudairy, director of research at Alnahda Society, one of the oldest nonprofit organizations in Saudi Arabia, dedicated to the economic empowerment of women and lower-income households in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia had a meeting with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 2018. The follow-up meeting between the Kingdom and CEDAW will take place this year to examine which of the 35 detailed recommendations have been addressed.

“We have been tracking all recommendations provided by CEDAW to see which ones have been addressed and which haven’t,” Al-Sudairy said. “If the law has changed, we also check whether processes are in place that allow women to access their rights in the law or lodge a complaint if they haven’t.”

According to both Al-Sudairy and Jabarti, Saudi entrepreneurs were ready to start their own businesses or join the workforce even before the recent reforms were adopted.

“These are not just for women, they are for all Saudis, because expatriates are still dominant in the workforce,” Al-Sudairy told Arab News. “Even with the increase of women in the labor force, they still account for a minority share and are less than 10 percent of total employees in the private sector.”

Takafu, a project carried out by the Alnahda Society’s research unit, found that Saudi women account for only 30 percent of total Saudi employees in the private sector.

“There’s much room for improvement on having women in decision-making roles at all levels,” said Alyusuf. “Only when you have an equal distribution at all levels can you get a balanced ecosystem.”

For her part, Jabarti thinks the issue also involves the cooperation of men. “The men in your workplace, or whoever you report to, must allow you or give you the authority to make decisions. One doesn’t work without the other,” she told Arab News.

She summed up the situation for Saudi women this way: “There wasn’t a sense of entitlement among women before. Now they have entitlement — to work and to liberty.”


Where We Are Going Today: Plant Cafe in Saudi Arabia’s Abu Arish

Where We Are Going Today: Plant Cafe in Saudi Arabia’s Abu Arish
Updated 12 August 2022

Where We Are Going Today: Plant Cafe in Saudi Arabia’s Abu Arish

Where We Are Going Today: Plant Cafe in Saudi Arabia’s Abu Arish
  • Plant Cafe opened its doors to Jazan residents seven months ago

The sleepy southwestern city of Abu Arish in Jazan province is known for producing and exporting salt and, more recently, for a cafe that combines the perfect blend of salty and sweet.

Seven months ago, Plant Cafe opened its doors to residents of the area, and Jazan city should take notice.

One recent evening, Plant Cafe was full of coffee enthusiasts, sipping cold drinks on the velvety green chairs and scrolling their phones at the terrazzo-patterned tables.

With strategically-placed full-length mirrors spread along the pathway to the seating areas, the photogenic cafe offers a variety of spots for the perfect mirror selfie.

In the back, colorful portraits of famous figures are hung on a wall. The wooden spiral stairs— with green plants draped along them — lead to the second floor seating area.

Limited seating is also available outdoors for those who dare to sit and sip in the searing heat.

With the sound of the steaming espresso machine and soft music piped into the space, the cute coffee cups illustrated with farmers gathering flowers and plants are always being filled.

The must-try items include the cold lemon strawberry trifle in a jar. With bits of rich cheesecake, a drizzling of tart strawberry sauce, smooth cream and a bit of fresh lemon on top, it is layered decadence to be enjoyed with a spoon, and conveniently offered in a sealed portable jar — the perfect portion for a late-night sweet tooth craving or afternoon pick-me-up.

The cafe opens bright and early until late night six days of the week, from 6 a.m. until 2 a.m. On Fridays, it is open from 4:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.


Expat arrested in Saudi Arabia for assaulting child with disabilities

Expat arrested in Saudi Arabia for assaulting child with disabilities
Updated 12 August 2022

Expat arrested in Saudi Arabia for assaulting child with disabilities

Expat arrested in Saudi Arabia for assaulting child with disabilities
  • An investigation into the assault has been launched and the Public Prosecution will be taking the necessary legal measures against him, an official source confirms

RIYADH: Saudi authorities arrested an expat for assaulting a child with disabilities after video footage of the incident was circulated online, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Thursday. 

Saudi Arabia’s Attorney General Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mujeb issued an arrest warrant for the Egyptian resident who was seen beating a child on CCTV footage in a neighborhood in the town Wadi ad-Dawasir in Najd. 

An investigation into the assault has been launched and the Public Prosecution will be taking the necessary legal measures against him, an official source confirmed to SPA. 

The Kingdom’s penal code protects children from abuse, the source said, adding that the victim would be receiving counseling in line with the child protection law.


Man arrested for carrying 54 kg of khat in Saudi Arabia

Man arrested for carrying 54 kg of khat in Saudi Arabia
Updated 12 August 2022

Man arrested for carrying 54 kg of khat in Saudi Arabia

Man arrested for carrying 54 kg of khat in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH: Security forces in Saudi Arabia have arrested a man carrying 54 kg of the stimulant khat, state news agency (SPA) reported.

The narcotics were found in the accused’s vehicle as he drove in Jazan region.

He has been referred to relevant authorities for further action, the SPA statement said.

The arrest comes as the country cracks down on the smuggling and use of illegal and controlled substances.

Earlier this week, Saudi authorities arrested 70 people for trying to smuggle about 70 tons of khat and 618 kg of hashish into the Kingdom.


Beit Hail in Saudi Arabia’s north showcases local heritage

Beit Hail in Saudi Arabia’s north showcases local heritage
Updated 12 August 2022

Beit Hail in Saudi Arabia’s north showcases local heritage

Beit Hail in Saudi Arabia’s north showcases local heritage
  • Ancient Thamudic and Sadu embroidery on display

HAIL: The Beit Hail 15-day festival was launched on Wednesday showcasing local heritage including incense burners, daggers, wicker baskets, and clothes with ancient Thamudic and Sadu embroidery.

Dep. Gov. of Hail Prince Faisal bin Fahd inaugurated the event at Aja Park with the undersecretary of the region, Adel bin Saleh Al-Sheikh, and other officials.

Prince Faisal toured the site and visited the exhibition of the late artist Youssef Al-Shagdali.

The festival also features classic cars and popular, colorful handicrafts created by the region’s artisans.

There were also stalls that showed how cloth is woven and transformed into clothing.

Visitors were entertained by a folklore troupe performing the Saudi Arda.

The event aims to support local talent and boost small businesses.

 

 


The Line city impresses Makkah governor, plans to book first 

The Line city impresses Makkah governor, plans to book first 
Updated 12 August 2022

The Line city impresses Makkah governor, plans to book first 

The Line city impresses Makkah governor, plans to book first 
  • Prince Khaled Al-Faisal visited the design expo at Jeddah Superdome
  • He was briefed on innovations to alleviate environmental challenges

JEDDAH: The architecture of the futuristic city, The Line, has impressed Makkah Gov. Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, who says he will be the first to book an accommodation once it is complete.

Prince Khalid made the remarks in a tweet following his visit to the NEOM exhibition to see the designs on Wednesday at the Jeddah Superdome.

The governor toured the exhibition that showcases the architectural innovations of the city.

He was also briefed on how the city would help alleviate the critical environmental challenges facing humanity.

Last month, The Line’s designs were revealed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

They showed the most important features of The Line, which is 200 meters wide, 170 kilometers long, and 500 meters high. It will eventually house 9 million people and have a 34 square kilometer footprint.

It will take up less land than other cities of comparable capacity and help to conserve 95 percent of NEOM’s land.

The Line imagines a future without streets, cars or emissions. It will be powered entirely by renewable energy and prioritize health and well-being over transportation and infrastructure.

The exhibition showcases all these aspects of the city. It opened on Aug. 1 and will be taken to other locations from Aug. 14, including Riyadh and the Eastern Province.

It offers 50 guided tours a day in Arabic and English.