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Vision 2030

The changing roles of women in the Saudi workforce under Vision 2030

Published: Updated:

Employing Saudi Arabia’s talented, educated women and giving them prominent roles in the Kingdom’s workforce has been considered an integral strategy to create a more diverse and sustainable economy.

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The Vision 2030 website outlined that in order to enable a thriving economy of the future, it will need to increase employment, with ensuring more jobs are available to women.

Increase in employment through Vision 2030

A report released by the World Bank in early 2021 recognized the country’s work in the women’s empowerment space. ‘Women, Business and Law 2021’ scored Saudi Arabia 80 points out of 100, an increase from 2020’s score of 70.6. It raised the Kingdom’s ranking to become one of the leading countries that develops women’s roles in society from across the Middle East and North Africa.

Saudi women work on pots in a workshop in AlUla, Saudi Arabia, April 8, 2021. Picture taken April 8, 2021. (Reuters)
Saudi women work on pots in a workshop in AlUla, Saudi Arabia, April 8, 2021. Picture taken April 8, 2021. (Reuters)

This achievement was “an affirmation of the strength and continued momentum of legislative reforms in laws and regulations related to women, as the Kingdom has achieved gender equality in all areas of employment, to meet the needs of the labor market,” according to the World Bank report, SPA reported in February.

A Brookings Institution report found that there has been a sharp rise in the number of women in the Saudi workforce between 2018 and 2020. The report indicated that 20 percent of adult women holding jobs or actively looking for employment rose to around 33 percent.

The institute said that the reforms put in place by the Kingdom to empower women were a clear reason for this “dramatic change,” allowing women to work in sectors that were previously to them, such as defense, mining, construction and manufacturing.

“The share of Saudi women in the labor market expanded by an incredible 64 percent in just two years,” the report stated, adding that Vision 2030 had played an instrumental role in eliciting this.

During the assessed two-year period, the Brookings study found that the employment rate of women grew from 68 to 76 percent.

The private sector saw the highest employment rate. The accommodation and food industries witnessed 40 percent growth in female employment, while the construction and manufacturing sectors had a 9 and 14 percent rise respectively.

The public sector saw a five percent increase in the employment of women from the beginning of 2019 until the end of 2020.

Reforms

Lifting the ban on women driving in 2018 was a huge cultural shift for the Kingdom, with a continuos stream of reforms introduced.

According to a report by the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS) released in May, Saudi Arabia relaxed its guardianship laws and enhanced the roles of women in society by granting them more freedom and improving their access to employment opportunities.

The first military wing for women in Saudi Arabia’s Armed Forces. (Supplied)
The first military wing for women in Saudi Arabia’s Armed Forces. (Supplied)

This has enabled Saudi women 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 can also open their own businesses, attend sports matches, concerts, and entertainment events - social freedoms that were not previously available to them before the introduction of the Saudi Vision 2030 strategy.

Saudi Arabia has made significant improvements in women’s legal rights with reforms linked to sexual harassment, retirement rights, and mobility within and outside the Kingdom, the report said.

Saudi women in prominent positions

Abrar Shaker was appointed as Chairman of the FLIG Football Club at its first founding meeting in a move that made her Saudi Arabia’s first woman to lead a football club, Arabic news media Al Yaum reported last week.

Abrar Shaker, chairman of Saudi football club FLIG. (Screengrab)
Abrar Shaker, chairman of Saudi football club FLIG. (Screengrab)

As part of an effort to expand the number of games in the future the football club - based in the eastern Saudi province of Hafar Al Batin - includes teams for both men and women.

Also last week, female soldier Abeer al-Rashed conducted the Kingdom’s first female-led security forces briefing for Hajj. She constructed the security and traffic management strategy for the upcoming pilgrimage season, which began on Sunday and will end on Tuesday, hosting a limited capacity of 60,000 people in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Saudi Arabian soldier Abeer al-Rashed, conducting the Kingdom's first-ever female-led security forces briefing for Hajj on Tuesday, 14 July 2021. (Screengrab via Twitter)
Saudi Arabian soldier Abeer al-Rashed, conducting the Kingdom's first-ever female-led security forces briefing for Hajj on Tuesday, 14 July 2021. (Screengrab via Twitter)

Al-Rashed's role was met with a mass of positive comments on social media, from users in Saudi Arabia and across the region.

Earlier this year, the country’s defense ministry opened military recruitment to women, enabling them to enroll in the Saudi Arabian Land Forces, Royal Saudi Air Defense, Royal Saudi Navy, Royal Saudi Strategic Missile Force, and Armed Forces Medical Services.

Several female police officers were also spotted supervising Umrah pilgrims during the holy month of Ramadan in Mecca, highlighting the advances women in the Kingdom have made in many fields under the Vision 2030 program.

Photos of a Saudi female police officer supervising Umrah pilgrims during the holy month of Ramadan in Saudi Arabia’s Mecca. (SPA)
Photos of a Saudi female police officer supervising Umrah pilgrims during the holy month of Ramadan in Saudi Arabia’s Mecca. (SPA)

Some prominent Saudi figures who dominated Forbes’ Top 10 power list in 2020 included: Rania Nashar, the first female CEO of a Saudi commercial bank, currently leading Samba Financial Group, the Kingdom’s third-largest bank by assets; Sarah al-Suhaimi, the first Saudi woman to chair the country’s stock exchange; and Lubna Olayan, CEO and Deputy Chairman of multinational enterprise and investing firm Olayan Financing Company.

Some major advances have been made since Vision 2030 was launched in 2016. It is safe to say that the changing role of women in Saudi Arabia’s workforce will continue to reap great rewards for its economy.

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