DUBAI: As Saudi Arabia continues to undergo significant economic and social reforms, its women and youth find themselves at the heart of this profound change.
With several initiatives transforming the Saudi economy, workplace and society among other things, the role of Saudi women has become an integral part of this.
The above observations were made by Sarah Al-Tamimi, vice chair of Saudi Arabia’s National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking, and Noor Nugali, assistant editor-in-chief at Arab News, ahead of their participation in a panel discussion entitled “Saudi Women Pioneers: Change from Within” at the Arab Women Forum in Dubai on May 17.
In Nugali’s opinion, Saudi women have always been strong, resilient and extremely hardworking, regardless of their occupations. The difference today, in her view, is that they have the opportunities that were not available before the launch of Vision 2030.
“We had trailblazers, we had women who fought to make their way in this world and pave that road for their successors,” she said.
“Now we see more Saudi women reaching high positions, more Saudi women shining in different fields. It was not because of a lack of talent in the past but a lack of opportunity, which now has come to light. So now we can see many more women joining the workforce in senior positions.”
The foundation for future female leaders in Saudi Arabia rests on a number of pillars. In addition to ambition and hope, having a very strong support system – from family, friends and role models they can learn from — is crucial. “Saudi society is very tight-knit,” Nugali said.
“It’s a large community and both women and men need that support system — we’re also talking about equality, which means giving the opportunity to the best person, regardless of gender.
“The Saudi leadership’s brilliant Vision 2030 has created a strategy to level the playing field for the work force and have the most qualified candidates chosen.”
Nugali underscored the importance of equality and opportunity for all, saying: “Don’t hire women to fill a quota. Hire the most qualified, whether male or female, and give them all equal chances. That is what our vision is about.”
She believes gender stereotypes and gender bias, both conscious and unconscious, are fast disappearing, a process that was many years in the making. “I’m seeing this happen. It is momentous and marvelous that this is where we are because we had a very sheltered life,” Nugali said.
“Now we’ve shattered the glass ceiling, and this was something we’ve been waiting for a very long time. The only challenge is believing in yourself and working hard in order to attain what you aspire to be. You have to be focused, you have to have a huge support system, you have to believe in yourself and know that it’s okay to make mistakes because that’s part of growing, learning and excelling.”
Al-Tamimi, who is also the deputy president of Saudi Arabia’s Human Rights Commission, said women in the Kingdom are currently experiencing a golden age, with opportunities expanding at a more dramatic pace than at any other point in the country’s history. She added that the Saudi government is playing an active role in ensuring that women realize these opportunities.
“Several reforms have been implemented to incentivize women to enter the labor market and also to protect their rights, from freedom of mobility and travel to anti-harassment laws and regulations,” she told Arab News.
“A lot has happened from a regulatory and legislative perspective.”
Many traditionally male-led sectors previously closed to women, such as construction, car repair shops and the police force, have also opened up to them in the past few years, providing them with massive opportunities.
“The work continues to ensure women’s participation across the board,” Al-Tamimi said. “And (the) creation of new opportunities for women in the workplace is definitely a significant component of Vision 2030.”
Labor equality and education will prove crucial to the advancement of women going forward, and with the Saudi government investing tremendous resources in young girls’ and women’s education, they now outnumber their male counterparts in university degrees.
In the workforce, women’s share of entrepreneurship is also rapidly growing, placing them at the heart of the Kingdom’s transformation, with the latest data from the General Authority for Statistics revealing that Saudi women make up 35 percent of the Saudi workforce.
“Women are reaching more and more leadership positions each day and this serves to spearhead further development,” Al-Tamimi said. “We need women in the labor market, they should be contributing, thriving and leading — we need to tap into the full potential of Saudi women and we’re seeing this every day in Saudi Arabia, women have so much to offer the country in terms of their capabilities and their talents.”