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.”


First group of Omani pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia ahead of Hajj

First group of Omani pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia ahead of Hajj
Updated 21 min 20 sec ago

First group of Omani pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia ahead of Hajj

First group of Omani pilgrims arrive in Saudi Arabia ahead of Hajj
  • The pilgrims’ entry procedures were completed with ease
  • Thursday marks the start of Dhu Al-Hijjah, the month during which Hajj is performed

RIYADH: The first group of Omani pilgrims arrived in the Kingdom through the Empty Quarter port ahead of Hajj, Saudi Press Agency reported on Thursday.

Thursday marks the start of Dhu Al-Hijjah, the month during which Hajj is performed. The first day of Hajj, 8th of Dhu Al-Hijjah, will fall on July 7, and the pilgrimage will end on the 12th day of the month (July 11). Arafat Day falls on the 9th day of Dhu Al-Hijjah (July 8).

The pilgrims’ entry procedures were completed with ease, and the General Directorate of Passports is supporting sites designated to serve pilgrims with modern technical devices and qualified employees so that procedures are completed without delay, SPA said.


Saudi Police arrest 15 Hajj fraudsters

Saudi Police arrest 15 Hajj fraudsters
Updated 30 June 2022

Saudi Police arrest 15 Hajj fraudsters

Saudi Police arrest 15 Hajj fraudsters
  • Illegal online adverts included providing transportation to the holy sites securing sacrifices for pilgrims

RIYADH – Saudi authorities arrested 15 people in two separate operations for offering fraudulent Hajj-related services, state news agency (SPA) reported.

Makkah police arrested seven residents of different nationalities for promoting fake services on social media involving Hajj performed on behalf of others.

The illegal online adverts also included providing transportation to the holy sites and hotels, as well as securing and distributing sacrifices for pilgrims, according to the SPA statement.

In a separate operation, Riyadh police detained seven residents for offering fake transportation services for pilgrims to Makkah. Another resident was detained for running an unlicensed website in Riyadh to promote fraudulent Hajj campaigns.  

The fraudsters were detained and referred to public prosecution.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah earlier warned against suspicious sites and social media accounts offering unauthorized Hajj-related services, stressing that the ministry's online platforms are the only official channels to book Hajj campaigns inside the Kingdom.


Hajj ministry announces alternative flights, facilities to accommodate pilgrims facing issues from UK, Europe and America

Hajj ministry announces alternative flights, facilities to accommodate pilgrims facing issues from UK, Europe and America
Updated 30 June 2022

Hajj ministry announces alternative flights, facilities to accommodate pilgrims facing issues from UK, Europe and America

Hajj ministry announces alternative flights, facilities to accommodate pilgrims facing issues from UK, Europe and America
  • This comes after people faced technical issues while applying for hajj via the electronic portal
  • Additional seats were added on flights after people reported limited capacities on flights

RIYADH: The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah in Saudi Arabia announced on Wednesday that it will secure alternative flights and provide additional seats for pilgrims coming from Britain, the US, and Europe. 

In cooperation with relevant authorities, visas will also be issued immediately to the pilgrims entering the Kingdom as part of the efforts. 

This comes after people faced technical issues while applying for hajj via the electronic portal and had access to limited seats on flights. 

The ministry reiterated that it welcomes all pilgrims who have completed their procedures via the electronic platform, as well as those who have arrived in Saudi Arabia.

 


Top Mawhiba students prepare to represent Saudi Arabia at five international scientific olympiads

Top Mawhiba students prepare to represent Saudi Arabia at five international scientific olympiads
Updated 30 June 2022

Top Mawhiba students prepare to represent Saudi Arabia at five international scientific olympiads

Top Mawhiba students prepare to represent Saudi Arabia at five international scientific olympiads
  • Members of physics, chemistry and biology teams are in Hungary for a two-week training program; the math and informatics teams already completed their preparations in the Kingdom
  • The events, some of which are virtual and some in-person, will take place in July and August in Norway, Indonesia, China, Switzerland and Armenia

JEDDAH: Top students from the King Abdulaziz and His Companions Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity, also known as Mawhiba, are preparing to participate in five international scientific olympiads that will be held virtually and in person during July and August.

Two teams of students have already completed their training programs in the Kingdom at King Abdullah University for Science and Technology. They will compete in the International Mathematical Olympiad in Oslo, Norway, from July 6 to 16, and the International Olympiad in Informatics in Indonesia from Aug. 7 to 15. The informatics event involves programming and algorithmic problem-solving challenges.

Meanwhile, 38 male and female members of three other teams arrived in Budapest, Hungary, on Monday to begin intensive two-week training programs at some of the country’s most prestigious universities.

They include 14 students hoping to earn a place on the team that will compete at the International Chemistry Olympiad, which will be hosted by China; 12 students nominated for the team at the International Physics Olympiad 2022, hosted by Switzerland; and 12 trying to claim a place on the team at International Biology Olympiad 2022 in Armenia. The first two events will be virtual and the third in-person, and all three take place between July 10 and 18.

The physics team’s training event is being held at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, the biology team’s at the Hungarian Society of Biology, and the chemistry team’s at Eotvos Lorand University. They team members will complete an average of about eight hours a day of lectures and tutoring in their specialist subjects, delivered by experienced, qualified international trainers. The lessons will include practical and theoretical elements, along with training on how to find solutions to advanced scientific problems.

According to Mawhiba, at the end of the training camp the best performers on each team will be selected to represent Saudi Arabia at their respective olympiads.

Amal Al-Hazzaa, the acting secretary general of Mawhiba, told Arab News that the talented students had already completed more than 10,000 hours of training before participating in the preparatory camps.

She added that they have all attained high levels of proficiency and experience to reach the point where they can represent the Kingdom at an international competition.

In the past 10 years, Al-Hazzaa revealed, students from Saudi Arabia have won more than 500 medals and other awards at the olympiads.

“We are hopeful that these students will achieve further successes in the coming five olympiads,” she added.


Success of Jeddah Season was diversity and inclusivity

Success of Jeddah Season was diversity and inclusivity
Updated 29 June 2022

Success of Jeddah Season was diversity and inclusivity

Success of Jeddah Season was diversity and inclusivity
  • Jeddah Season had events tailored to almost everyone, including Anime Village for fans of the art and Japanese culture, Jeddah Waves for water sports enthusiasts and cultural shows for art, music and theater lovers

JEDDAH: With its wide variety of daily shows, experiences, games, exhibitions and concerts, Jeddah Season was a resounding success, receiving over 5 million visitors from around 68 countries. 

More than 36 performances and events were held in the Kingdom for the first time. 

Jeddah Season had events tailored to almost everyone, including Anime Village for fans of the art and Japanese culture, Jeddah Waves for water sports enthusiasts and cultural shows for art, music and theater lovers. 

Inclusivity was a priority for Jeddah Season’s manager Nawaf Qomosani.

“We know that Jeddah’s people love the water and sea activities, and we also know that they love anime, so that’s why one of the main focuses was to provide international-standard events for these two segments,” he told Arab News.

“Besides that, we also wanted to focus on food and traditional events, and I hope that we covered all kinds of events within this season,” he added.

Qomosani said that organizers faced many challenges on a daily basis to maintain the high quality of events for visitors.

“We wanted to give them the best possible option every day, taking into consideration such factors as the weather and timing. With the great team we have, we overcame these challenges daily,” he said.

Qomosani believes that the City Walk, one of the nine zones, was the highlight of Jeddah Season.

“It had different events that appealed to everyone. You could find events for kids, adults, anime lovers, music lovers. I think that’s the perfect kind of zone that everyone wishes for,” he said.

Some zones such as Luna, Jeddah Superdome, Layalina Theatre, the Yacht Club, and Prince Majid Park will continue to operate after the season ends and until the end of the year. 

It is currently being discussed whether to extend the operation of zones Jeddah Waves and Jeddah June until the end of the year. 

In line with Vision 2030, Jeddah Season provided scores of economic and employment opportunities to more than 74,000 people, of which 80 percent were Saudis, in 14 different professional fields.