It’s time to celebrate advances in Saudi female employment

The advancement that the government has achieved is commendable, but it must switch into a higher gear

Yara al-Wazir
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This week, it emerged that the number of women securing jobs in the private sector in Saudi Arabia had increased drastically. For Saudi nationals, there was a 76 percent increase in new female hires, compared to a 24 increase increase of their expatriate counterparts. The number of Saudi women in the private sector has increased by 450 percent since 2010.

These numbers warrant celebration. The speed at which this increase was achieved proves that the talent and qualifications are there. However, women need to be given a chance, especially since they still only make up 13 percent of the private workforce in Saudi Arabia.


Over the past few years, Gulf countries such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia have undergone strong nationalization campaigns, whereby private sector companies are required to award a certain percentage of new jobs to nationals of the country in which they operate. This is one of the reasons why the percentage increase in employment of Saudi women is three times greater than their expatriate counterparts.

The next step is to ensure that women are promised a certain number of these new jobs. This will further convince families in a predominantly traditional society that their daughters are still under the watchful, protective eye of the government, even when they take jobs in the private sector.

The advancement that the government has achieved is commendable, but it must switch into a higher gear.

Yara al-Wazir

While I am not generally an advocate of set quotas, in certain situations - such as in Saudi Arabia, where women make up only 13 percent of the workforce in the private sector - quotas are necessary to ensure social security.

Female-only city

In 2012, Saudi Arabia announced its intention to build a female-only city with a 100 percent female workforce, creating several thousand jobs. While in theory creating these jobs for women is a great idea, it is not practical to do so in a newly-built, remote city. A new city requires infrastructure, transport and new industries. This is neither a practical nor time-efficient method of securing employment.

Additionally, in a protective community, the idea of a woman commuting to work is not widely accepted. Building more female-only cities is not a way around that. It is an expensive fix to a simple problem: women are not given the opportunities or the jobs they deserve.

For example, in 2012 a ban was imposed on men working in lingerie shops. Instead, these stores had to employ women, prompting over 28,000 applications, mainly from expatriate women and migrant workers. Regardless of who was applying, jobs in an already existing market had been rebirthed. The infrastructure is there, and commuting is less of a concern.

More to do

The advancement that the government has achieved is commendable, but it must switch into a higher gear, taking lessons learnt from current methods and combining them with new methods to secure female employment.

This includes more rights to protect both employer and employee, structured maternity leave, designated rest areas, and even possibility a flexible work schedule in order to achieve work-life balance in a traditional country.

Yara al Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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