Most of kingdom's millennium goals achieved

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Updated 04 January 2013

Most of kingdom's millennium goals achieved

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has made significant progress in achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals ahead of the 2015 deadline, the Economy and Planning Minister Muhammad Al-Jasser announced yesterday.
“A review of implementation of the MDGs in the Kingdom demonstrates that the targets set for a number of goals have already been surpassed, while others are expected to be reached well ahead of schedule,” he said.
The 2012 MDG report issued by the Ministry of Economy and Planning charts the progress made by the Kingdom towards achieving the MDGs at four levels, including development of the IT environment, making it possible to speed up achievement of the MDGs through the expansion of databases.
Saudi Arabia was also successful in integrating the MDGs into sustainable development by making persistent efforts to achieve, even surpass, the MDGs ahead of the schedule set by the UN, in addition to supporting the implementation of MDGs in developing countries, the report said.
“Saudi Arabia's five-year development plans constitute the cornerstone of the endeavors to achieve the MDGs,” Al-Jasser said. “Not only do these plans aim, through clarity of strategic vision and mobilization of human and financial resources to consolidate work at the above mentioned levels, but also ensure harmony and partnership between national and global efforts aimed at supporting international development and peace,” he pointed out.
The MDGs were set by a summit of 147 heads of state, organized by the United Nations in September 2000. Subsequently, a system was developed to monitor progress on achieving eight main goals: To eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empowerment of women, reduce the child mortality rate, improve reproductive (maternal) health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development.
Twenty-one targets derived from the general goals are to be achieved by 2015 and 60 indicators have been developed to monitor implementation and measure progress.
“A wide range of targets have already been reached or are well on their way toward achievement before 2015,” the minister said. The Kingdom has achieved good results in eradicating extreme poverty, providing primary education, reducing the mortality rate of children under five years of age, reducing maternal mortality, reducing the spread of AIDS and reducing the incidence of malaria and other major diseases.
“It is noteworthy that the MDGs constitute a part of the general objectives of the Kingdom's socio-economic development plans and thus are in line with its long-term development directions,” Al-Jasser said.
He said the tangible economic prosperity and progress achieved by the Kingdom over the past years produced sustainable improvement in all human development indicators such as standard of living, health and educational services and environmental conditions.
Over the period between 1999 and 2011, the national economy achieved an average annual real growth rate of 11.54 percent with a per capita income reaching around SR 78,906 ($21,042) by the end of this period, the report pointed out.
Moreover, diversification of the economic base increased, with the share of non-oil sectors constituting some 77.5 percent of total real GDP in 2011 despite the remarkable growth of the oil sector in recent years.
The Saudi economy also realized growing integration into the global economy with the ratio of merchandise foreign trade to GDP reaching some 83 percent by the end of the second year (2011) of the Ninth Plan.
Concerning foreign trade structure, the share of non-oil exports increased from around 8 percent in 2000 to some 12.9 percent in 2011. On the other hand, the share of imports of consumer goods in total imports has declined due to the growth of the share of national products in domestic consumption, which is an indicator of improved competitiveness of these products.
The Kingdom succeeded in increasing its income on many fronts, with per capita income growing at an average annual rate of 6.10 percent over the period 1990–2011. This domestic growth was accompanied by a similar improvement in human development indicators, thus ranking the Kingdom fifth place among "countries with the fastest progress" in human development and 56th among 187 countries in the global human development index.
As part of the government’s efforts to alleviate poverty, the maximum social security benefit per family has been increased from SR 16,200 to more than SR 58,000 per year. Total spending in this category stood at about SR 24.8 billion in 2011. It also provided assistance worth SR 10.8 billion to low-income groups to enable them improve their living conditions. Through the productive projects program, which aims at qualifying social security beneficiaries through upgrading skills or providing tools, the government spent SR 24.9 billion.
In order to solve the housing crisis, the government approved construction of 500,000 housing units at a cost of SR 250 billion. It also raised the ceiling of housing loans provided by REDF to SR 500,000 while the REDF capital has been supported with an extra amount of SR 40 billion, thereby increasing its total capital to SR 97 billion. It also raised the capital of the Saudi Credit and Saving Bank to SR 30 billion.


Tearing down the wall: Saudi restaurants adjust to the abolishment of gender segregation

Updated 28 January 2020

Tearing down the wall: Saudi restaurants adjust to the abolishment of gender segregation

  • New law urges restaurants to remove segregation in entrance and separate seating arrangements
  • Many restaurants have already begun to implement the law, but others stubbornly refuse

RIYADH: Saudi diners are still chewing over the Kingdom’s move to end the long-standing legal requirement for restaurants to have separate entrances for males and families.

As a result of reforms — involving 103 rules and regulations, manuals, models, and standards aimed at making life easier for citizens and visitors — men and women no longer have to enter restaurants through separate doors.

Naif Al-Otaibi, general manager of public relations and media at the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, said gender-segregation was now a matter of choice.

“It’s optional. We did not specify the number of entry points, so the investor is free to have multiple entry points and segregate (males from females) in their restaurant,” he told Arab News.

Many restaurants and cafes in Saudi Arabia, including American coffee chain Starbucks, typically have separate sections for families (women on their own or accompanied by men) and males.

The AlShaya Group, operator of Starbucks, The Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s among others, has said it will end gender segregation in stores and eateries that were opened before the new rule came into effect.

“We at Alshaya are planning to transform the old stores’ designs following the new desegregation law, but that will take place over the course of the next two years,” the company told Arab News.

An employee at one of Starbucks’ gender-segregated outlets said maintenance contractors had recently conducted an inspection of the site with a view to commencing remodeling work. “They will take out the wall that separates the male area from the families section,” the staff member told Arab News.

“They will also remove the signs at the entry points that say, ‘families’ and ‘males’ and merge the two separate sections.”

Just a few years ago all of this was unthinkable in a very different Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom had a strict policy of not allowing women to dine in a restaurant without a mahram (male guardian). They would be turned away if they did not comply with the rule.

Recalling an incident that happened 20 years ago, “D.K.,” a 37-year-old Saudi woman who wished to remain anonymous, said she found herself inside one of the white vehicles belonging to the religious police whose official job description was the “prevention of vice and promotion of virtue.”

She had been dining with her friends at a McDonald’s restaurant without a mahram.

But D.K. is amazed by the changes that have taken place since, and said the ending of gender segregation in restaurants was a huge step forward for the Kingdom.

She praised King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for advancing women’s empowerment by increasing their employment opportunities, enhancing the quality of their social life and expanding their personal freedoms.

While these steps might seem unimpressive to the average person in the West, cumulatively they were opening up the Kingdom in a big way, D.K. told Arab News, though she admitted that some conservative sections of Saudi society still wished to see the continuation of gender segregation in restaurants.

However, most restaurant owners were eager to move with the changing times.

Al-Amin Mahmoud, a 35-year-old father-of-four from Madinah, takes his family every weekend to a different restaurant. While in Jeddah on a short vacation, he faced a problem when he discovered that some restaurants did not have separate sections for males and families.

“I respect that decision, but I did not feel comfortable. I knew that the decision had been implemented. However, for me, having grown up in a conservative family and society, it does not suit me,” he told Arab News.

Father-of-three Habib Saleh, 41, said that businesses had the option to accept or reject the gender-desegregation decision.

“This is akin to the decision to ban sheesha from restaurants. Many people objected, saying smoking sheesha was the main reason they frequented the restaurants in the first place. Some restaurants who implemented the rule naturally lost regular customers, which affected their revenue,” he added.

Saleh pointed out that when considering applying the new rules, some business owners faced the same dilemma of having to be prepared to lose some customers.

“It will take time before people get used to it. Of course, people will either reject it or be suspicious about it at first. And we have to keep in mind that some of the people who are objecting to this decision do not mind eating in mixed restaurants when they are abroad. So, there is some amount of contradiction. 

“We have to remember that the segregation rule was in force for more than 30 years, so don’t think that people will accept it quickly,” he said.

For his part, Abdulrahman Al-Harbi, an architect, believes implementing the desegregation law will improve the bottom lines of restaurants in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Harbi said not only would managing a restaurant become easier but construction bills would also shrink. “I prefer open spaces. A good designer can provide clever privacy solutions to customers in different ways. 

“If we want to call ourselves a civilized society, we must get used to a mixed-gender environment,” he added.

Abdul Aziz Al-Qahtani, the owner of Bicicleta Coffee Shop in Riyadh, said that since opening a new branch in the capital’s U Walk, only one cashier counter was required.

“We had customers coming in and asking for separate sections, but we have to keep pace with development,” he said. “This change in the law has reduced costs in many areas for us. Now we don’t need two cashiers to serve a family section and a male section.

“We also don’t have to have large spaces any more to be able to divide it up into two sections.”