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.”


New Saudi defense minister meets senior ministry officials

New Saudi defense minister meets senior ministry officials
Updated 28 September 2022

New Saudi defense minister meets senior ministry officials

New Saudi defense minister meets senior ministry officials
  • Prince Khalid bin Salman said the ministry will continue to follow the path set by his predecessor, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s new minister of defense, Prince Khalid bin Salman, met senior ministry officials in his office on Wednesday.

Formerly the deputy defense minister, his appointment was announced on Tuesday as part of a cabinet reshuffle. He takes over from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was appointed prime minister.

Prince Khalid gave a speech in which he thanked King Salman and the crown prince for the trust they have placed in him. He said the close attention his predecessor paid to the work of the Ministry of Defense had resulted the launch of its development program, which reflects the crown prince’s belief in efforts to maintain the highest standards of military development.

He stressed that the ministry will continue to follow the path set by the crown prince to become a modern institution staffed by professional and joint military forces capable of protecting homeland security from external threats, and leading alliances with high degrees of competency. 

 

 


Saudi defense minister meets with head of Yemeni presidential leadership council

Saudi defense minister meets with head of Yemeni presidential leadership council
Updated 38 min 8 sec ago

Saudi defense minister meets with head of Yemeni presidential leadership council

Saudi defense minister meets with head of Yemeni presidential leadership council

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Defence Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman met with the head of the Yemeni Presidential Leadership Council Rashad Al-Alimi on Wednesday.

During the meeting, Prince Khalid and Al-Alimi discussed the latest developments in Yemen, the Kingdom’s appreciation of the council’s efforts, and its wishes for peace, stability, and prosperity in the country.

Prince Khalid assured Al-Alimi that the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen will continue to support the Yemeni people and their aspirations for the council to achieve peace, stability, and security in their country.

Prince Khalid was appointed Minister of Defense by royal decree on Tuesday.


Saudi officials sign deal to develop Saudi UK Tech Hub

Saudi officials sign deal to develop Saudi UK Tech Hub
Updated 28 September 2022

Saudi officials sign deal to develop Saudi UK Tech Hub

Saudi officials sign deal to develop Saudi UK Tech Hub
  • Ministry and Saudi British Joint Business Council will work together on platform to connect entrepreneurs in both countries with partners and investors

RIYADH: The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Saudi British Joint Business Council to develop the Saudi UK Tech Hub, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The hub is a digital platform that aims to connect Saudi and British entrepreneurs with partners and supporters in both countries, while enhancing and supporting the technical ecosystems.

Under the agreement, which was signed by Ibrahim Al-Nasser, undersecretary at the ministry, and SBJBC CEO Chris Anis Hopkins, the two sides will establish a board of directors comprising representatives from the Saudi and British public and private sectors. SBJBC will manage the hub’s financial affairs and provide support.

By helping to facilitate knowledge transfer, increase investment, and strengthen relationships, the platform aims to support the efforts of both countries to develop their positions as regional technology and innovation hubs, authorities said.

 


Arab, Muslim leaders congratulate Saudi crown prince on his appointment as prime minister

Arab, Muslim leaders congratulate Saudi crown prince on his appointment as prime minister
Updated 28 September 2022

Arab, Muslim leaders congratulate Saudi crown prince on his appointment as prime minister

Arab, Muslim leaders congratulate Saudi crown prince on his appointment as prime minister
  • Leaders wish Saudi crown prince success and hope that relations between their countries will continue to grow under his leadership

RIYADH: Arab and Muslim leaders have congratulated Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following his appointment as Saudi Arabia’s prime minister on Tuesday, Saudi Press Agency reported.  

UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan and Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum congratulated the crown prince on his appointment.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani wished the crown prince success and hoped the relations between the two brotherly countries will continue to develop and grow. 

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa also sent a similar cable. 

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said: “On this occasion, I congratulate His Royal Highness Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, wishing him further success and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia further welfare and prosperity under the leadership of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.”


Saudi tourism gets chance to bloom in UN challenge

Saudi tourism gets chance to bloom in UN challenge
Updated 28 September 2022

Saudi tourism gets chance to bloom in UN challenge

Saudi tourism gets chance to bloom in UN challenge
  • The UNWTO’s Natalia Bayona said that Saudi Arabia is a “priority because of how the country is committed to creating tourism as a public policy and as an economic sector” 
  • Bayona added that goals in the country’s Vision 2030 for “youth empowerment, women’s empowerment, sustainability, and tourism” are central to the UNWTO’s mission

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s blossoming tourism industry is being offered the chance to grow even faster through a UN challenge that helps nurture the best businesses.

Natalia Bayona of the UN World Tourism Organization has said she wants Saudi entrepreneurs to enter her agency’s Awake Tourism Challenge, whose previous winners have gained international experience and expert advice, and raised $350 million of investment over the four years it has run.

Bayona, the agency’s director of innovation, education and investments, told Arab News that Saudi Arabia is a “priority because of how the country is committed to creating tourism as a public policy and as an economic sector.” 

She added that goals in the country’s Vision 2030 for “youth empowerment, women’s empowerment, sustainability, and tourism” are central to the UNWTO’s mission.

“We’d like to give visibility and promote Saudi Arabia as a country making a strong effort in the tourism sector,” she said.

The challenge is a perfect opportunity to identify Saudi-based entrepreneurs trying to solve challenges they face in the sector, Bayona added.

Entrants are judged in one or more categories, including local community involvement, environmental work, good use of technology, employee development and the empowerment of women in business.

Bayona said the UNWTO is pushing for enterprises to employ locally to help develop rural economies.

“Eighty percent of people living in extreme poverty live in rural areas. Tourism can be part of the way rural areas can be developed,” she said.

Bayona added that women’s empowerment is important “because they have the lowest salaries, the lowest-status jobs. Nonetheless, tourism is the sector that hires the most women worldwide.”

She said the basing of her agency’s regional office in Saudi Arabia shows how seriously it takes the country’s efforts to expand tourism.

The UNWTO’s partners include tourism bodies from more than 160 countries, 100 universities, more than 400 investors and around 500 corporations.

The Awake Tourism Challenge has helped winners raise more than $350 million and helped create more than 100 pilot projects. The deadline to enter this year’s initiative is Oct. 15.