It has been five years since Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 was inaugurated. The Kingdom has already set out to undertake a significant shift in many areas, including women’s empowerment, tolerance, foreign affairs, tourism, and cultural events, among many others.
Saudi Arabia has been successful in making progress on these goals, a report released Thursday by the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS) report found.
The report, entitled ‘Vision 2030 and Reform in Saudi Arabia: Faces and Figures’ highlighted some of the Kingdom’s key achievements between April 2015 and April 2021.
Saudi Vision 2030’s three main ambitions were to create a vibrant society, a thriving economy, and an ambitious nation, and the government has enforced the rules and reforms on societal and economic levels to achieve this, the report noted.
Lifting the ban on women driving in 2018 was a huge achievement for the Kingdom in the women’s empowerment space, but reform did not stop there, the report said. Saudi Arabia has also relaxed its guardianship laws and enhanced the roles of women in their society by granting them more freedom and improving their access to employment opportunities.
Saudi Arabia has made significant improvements in women’s legal rights on a global scale with reforms pertaining to sexual harassment, retirement rights, and women’s mobility within and outside the Kingdom, the report said. A Brookings Institute report on the female labor force in Saudi, said that “the share of Saudi women in the labor market expanded by an incredible 64 percent in just two years,” adding that Vision 2030 had played an instrumental role in eliciting this.
The KFCRIS report noted that with guardianship laws now relaxed, Saudi women are able to travel abroad on their own, apply for passports, register a birth, marriage, or divorce and seek medical treatment without the permission of a guardian. Saudi women are also able to open up their own businesses, attend sports matches, concerts, and entertainment events- social freedoms that were not previously available to them before Saudi Vision 2030.
Another major improvement that stemmed from this initiative would be the presence of women in the workforce – especially in senior positions. Under Vision 2030, many industries hired women for the very first time. Women are now allowed to join the Saudi Arabian Army, Navy, Royal Airforce, Strategic Missile Forces, and the Armed Forces Medical Services.
Religion and tolerance
Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s two Holy Mosques, and to many Muslims across the world who have always looked to the country for religious guidance.
The KFCRIS report stated that under Vision 2030, the Kingdom has continued to work towards destroying extremist ideologies and become a country of moderate Islam that is tolerant and open to all the world’s other religions.
“We need to work together to promote moderate Islam. We want to fight terrorism, and we want to fight extremism because we need to build stability in the Middle East,” said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in a March 2018 interview with UK-based online news media The Independent.
Since the initiative was launched, the Kingdom reduced the powers of the religious police by ensuring they no longer had the power to arrest suspects or request documents from them. Saudi Arabia also held its first Coptic mass, marking the Kingdom’s first non-Islamic religious ceremony, and welcomed many of the world’s prominent religious figures. The country also freely celebrated St. Valentine’s Day for the first time in 2018, KFCRIS noted.
Culture, Sports and Entertainment
Saudi Arabia is home to a extremely young population, with over 65 percent of its population under the age of 30, according to the KFCRIS report.
Opening up the Kingdom to foreign visitors, businesses and investors is a key focus of Vision 2030. Tourism has become a key pillar to Saudi Arabia’s transformation and many achievements have been made in this space. Of particular note was the announcement that the Kingdom would begin offering tourism visas in 2019.
The Kingdom now offers visas for sporting events, concerts, and tourism to people from 49 countries. Between September 2019 and February 2020, Saudi issued over 400,000 tourist visas.
In order to revamp the country’s tourism offering, authorities are also investing heavily in new projects to invigorate the sector. This includes mega-projects, such as the 50-island Red Sea Project, and music concerts featuring many world-famous celebrities.
The report noted that while a number of events had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these events will still take place at a later date, with several more set to be hosted soon, including the 2034 Asian Games, the second-biggest multi-sport event after the Olympic Games.
Saudi has made a lot of reforms in the entertainment and culture space, with the Kingdom putting the sector at the top of the global agenda during its presidency of the G20 last year.
The country has also hosted many art and culture events and has begun developing its local film industry. The Kingdom was represented at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016 and 2018 and has since showcased their very own films, pledged to invest more in filmmaking, and to grant a 35 percent rebate of production expenses to those who filmed movies within the country.