Ensuring a role for women in Saudi Vision 2030
There are plenty of cynics out there who see that the sky is falling, but there is little doubt that a systemic restructuring of how we conduct business, both domestically and internationally, is long overdue.
We have a built-in advantage to righting the Saudi economy. An estimated 60 percent of all university graduates are women. There is a large number of women returning to Saudi Arabia with postgraduate degrees in medicine, business and technology. In addition, the Saudi government has paved the way for creating an entertainment industry. The Jeddah-based Effat University, for example, is having its first graduating class in the spring of 2017 of female filmmaker bachelor degree holders in visual and digital production. That means that trained Saudi women will enter a new field of live-action film production, animation and screenwriting. Fewer, but no doubt a growing number, will become video game developers and cinematographers.
Saudi women returning with business and technology degrees, or have training in the arts, may find jobs once they return home. We should also not ignore the fact that there is a finite number of jobs available and competition will grow fierce once ministries become privatized and civil servants, who once basked in the glory of a permanent, full-time, fire-proof job, will now have to compete with other Saudis for the same position once their department goes private.
Faced with an uphill battle to find employment, women will strike out on their own to become entrepreneurs. About 30 percent of the available film/video production jobs may be filled by Effat University’s female graduates, but that leaves 70 percent to create their own production companies and work as freelancers.
With each passing year, the number of women frozen out of jobs will inevitably increase the number of women building their own companies and freelancing their highly-skilled professional services to the highest bidder.
If this scenario centered on jobs inside the Kingdom, I suppose that would be fine for Saudi businesswomen and help boost the economy by creating jobs and helping companies that provide support services to keep existing employees working. The problem, however, remains that government red tape is a major obstacle to Saudi women starting their own businesses, especially when it comes to hiring expatriate employees on work visas and dealing with new tax regulations that in many cases make opening stores and manufacturing centers financially unrealistic.
As we have already seen, Saudi businessmen and women have few reservations about leaving Saudi Arabia to open business elsewhere. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Oman are highly sought after destinations among Saudis seeking to open business operations. Down the list, but no less significant, are the United States and Canada.
The Saudi government should also pay attention to the brain drain of Saudi talent, as it’s vital now, not tomorrow, to encourage Saudis to remain in the country to keep the flow of Saudi riyals here rather than abroad. That brain drain is particularly at a critical stage for Saudi women who prefer a more business-friendly environment to conduct their business.
Sabria S. Jawhar is an assistant professor of Applied and Educational Linguistics Languages and Cultural Studies Department at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences National Guard Health Affairs.
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