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.”


KSrelief chief meets with UNRWA commissioner-general

KSrelief chief Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah meets with UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini in Riyadh on Sunday. (SPA)
KSrelief chief Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah meets with UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini in Riyadh on Sunday. (SPA)
Updated 57 min 39 sec ago

KSrelief chief meets with UNRWA commissioner-general

KSrelief chief Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah meets with UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini in Riyadh on Sunday. (SPA)
  • Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah and Philippe Lazzarini discussed issues of common interest related to relief and humanitarian efforts

RIYADH: The supervisor general of King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center met with the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East in Riyadh on Sunday.

Dr. Abdullah Al-Rabeeah and Philippe Lazzarini discussed issues of common interest related to relief and humanitarian efforts and ways to enhance cooperation between KSrelief and UNRWA.

They also discussed UNRWA’s participation in the third Riyadh International Humanitarian Forum which will take place in February.

On Tuesday, UNRWA appealed for $1.6 billion in funding for schools, healthcare and aid in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, where most Palestinian refugees or their descendants from various Arab-Israeli conflicts live.


Saudi FM meets GCC head as tenure comes to end

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with GCC Secretary-General Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf. (SPA)
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with GCC Secretary-General Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf. (SPA)
Updated 29 January 2023

Saudi FM meets GCC head as tenure comes to end

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets with GCC Secretary-General Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf. (SPA)
  • Prince Faisal praised the efforts made by Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf to support joint Gulf action and to serve its causes

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan received the head of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Riyadh on Sunday as his tenure at the organization comes to an end.

During the meeting, Prince Faisal praised the efforts made by Nayef Falah Al-Hajraf to support joint Gulf action and to serve its causes during his time as secretary-general.

Al-Hajraf expressed his thanks and appreciation for the Kingdom’s support for the council and the trust placed in him.


Suspect in murder of Saudi student set for Feb. 13 court hearing in Philadelphia

Nicole Marie Rodgers, who is originally from Columbus, Georgia, allegedly stabbed Algheraibi in the neck. (Philadelphia Police)
Nicole Marie Rodgers, who is originally from Columbus, Georgia, allegedly stabbed Algheraibi in the neck. (Philadelphia Police)
Updated 29 January 2023

Suspect in murder of Saudi student set for Feb. 13 court hearing in Philadelphia

Nicole Marie Rodgers, who is originally from Columbus, Georgia, allegedly stabbed Algheraibi in the neck. (Philadelphia Police)
  • Alwaleed Algheraibi, 25, stabbed in the neck
  • Bail denied for accused Nicole Marie Rodgers, 19

CHICAGO: A Pennsylvania judge has denied bail for Nicole Marie Rodgers, 19, who is accused of the Jan. 23 murder of Saudi student Alwaleed Algheraibi, 25, with a court appearance set for next month.

Rodgers, who is originally from Columbus, Georgia, allegedly stabbed Algheraibi in the neck. She was arraigned on Thursday and will be held in police custody until her first public court appearance on Monday, Feb. 13, court records provided to Arab News show.

Rodgers was taken into custody on Thursday, Jan. 26, following a three-day Philadelphia police investigation.

Rodgers faces charges including murder, robbery, burglary and theft. Investigating officers told local press that the victim’s phone and other valuables were taken.

Police said that witnesses had heard a person screaming from an apartment building located at the 300 block of Hansberry Street in Philadelphia at approximately 11:50 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 23.

When police arrived with paramedics, they found Algheraibi in the bathroom of a third-floor apartment with a fatal stab wound to his neck.

Algheraibi, described as a college student, was pronounced dead by the Philadelphia Fire Department Medical Unit personnel five minutes after his body was found on the bathroom floor.

Algheraibi was nearing the end of his studies and was due to return to Saudi Arabia.

The victim’s uncle told local Saudi media that his nephew’s suspected killer was a neighbor who lived in the apartment opposite.


Bollywood singers to fire up Jeddah with live performances

Bollywood singers to fire up Jeddah with live performances
Updated 29 January 2023

Bollywood singers to fire up Jeddah with live performances

Bollywood singers to fire up Jeddah with live performances
  • Two-day music festival Indian Cultural Night to be held on Thursday

JEDDAH: Indian melody king Kumar Sanu, playback singer M.G. Sreekumar, actor Dileep, and many more are set to take the stage in Jeddah for live music shows as part of the Indian Cultural Night.

This was announced recently by Junaise Babu, chairman of Good Hope Events, at a press conference with the attendance of various media representatives from Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The two-day music festival will be held from Feb. 2-3 at the Equestrian Club located on Asfan Road, in the Al-Frosyah district in Jeddah. It is expected to draw more than 35,000 music fans from all Asian communities.

Babu told Arab News that Saudi Arabia has been hosting massive entertainment and cultural events and is becoming the Gulf region’s premier entertainment hub.

He said: “We are planning to introduce the same standard of events for our Asian community.

“We are working with the relevant authorities and ensuring all safety measures are put in place as we organize a live music performance for thousands of expats in Jeddah, mainly from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.”

On Feb. 2, the South Indian night will feature Malayalam cinema’s favorite actor Dileep, singer Sreekumar, Nadirshah, Kottayam Naseer, Ranjini Jose, Amrutha Suresh, Fazilah Banu and Mahesh Kunjumon, among others.

On Feb. 3, the Bollywood night music festival will be led by famous musicians such as Sanu and Rachana Chopra and various other artistic performers from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Tickets are already on sale, with four categories starting from SR500 ($133) for VVIP seats, diamond tickets for SR300, gold for SR150 and silver for SR90.

Bollywood music events are a recurring theme on local event calendars. On Friday, the Makan Music Center in Jeddah organized an Indian-themed music night to support local artists and bands.

Fans of Indian music were treated to well-known Bollywood tunes and other genres of Indian music. The themed night was part of Makan’s cultural events calendar, during which local bands showcased genres including Arabic and Latin music.


Formula E for entertainment for fans in Diriyah

Formula E for entertainment for fans in Diriyah
Updated 29 January 2023

Formula E for entertainment for fans in Diriyah

Formula E for entertainment for fans in Diriyah

RIYADH:  From live gaming racing experiences, musical performances, food trucks, and face painting, this year’s Formula E Allianz Fan Village pulled out all the stops to create memorable fun for visitors in Diriyah.

“It’s truly wonderful. I brought my kids and wife. It has been loads of fun,” Michael Brintley, a business strategist living in Riyadh, told Arab News.

“We played the racing game in the Jahez tent, and my daughter got her face painted.

“It’s a nice experience to have on top of the races going on. We are still new to Saudi, so this was our first Diriyah Formula E, but it was great.”

The fan village welcomed locals, expats, families, and friends to watch the races and enjoy downtime in between rounds on Friday and Saturday.

It boasted many tents and booths, giving interactive experiences and offering activities such as a miniature remote-controlled racing game around Diriyah hosted in the Saudia airline booth pop-up.

The live gaming arena gave guests the full racing experience through multiple simulators and several different levels.

The fan village also had a main stage with multiple screens which displayed a live broadcast of the races.

Live performances, from marching bands to magicians, took place on a smaller stage to entertain families, while other tents featured live music and autograph sessions from competing drivers.

Formula E merchandise and memorabilia could also be bought, and near to the store was a padel court for visitors seeking some exercise.

Yusra Al-Humaidan, 22, attended the event with friends to share the experience.

She said: “I decided to come to Formula E with some of my friends at the last minute. We did not attend the first day but, after seeing all of the videos and pictures on Snapchat, we decided to come and see it.”

The party toured the fan village before returning to the Emotion Club, Formula E’s premium hospitality club.

She added: “The games in the [fan] village were so much fun. We saw this man dressed like a trophy who was dancing, and we played some of the car racing games before we ate dinner.”

The event ended with concerts by French Montana and John Legend on the podium stage.

The two-day Diriyah E-Prix, which ended on Saturday, took place during the ninth season of the FIA Formula E World Championship.

Some 11 teams and 22 drivers took to the race grid for the fifth time in the Kingdom since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman inaugurated the event in December 2018.