Although over 50% of Saudi women are university graduates (Naseem & Dhruva, 2017), unemployment remains high among Saudi women (OECD, 2016). According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), labour force participation is lower among women in Middle Eastern and North African Countries (Fathi, 2017). Many educated women in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries are demanding equal opportunities (Fathi, 2017).
Many Saudi women were previously restricted to work in certain fields, such as medicine, nursing, and teaching. And in the past, there were limited training opportunities for women in fields such as information technology and management (booz&co, 2010). The lack of these skills hindered women’s ability to obtain competitive employment (booz&co, 2010). However, over recent years, more programmes in post-secondary institutions have been established, such as computer science, architecture, and law, leading them to gain the opportunities to work in different fields.
Considering the high level of unemployment among Saudi women, the Government is committed to increasing the employment rate among Saudi women in the near future. Vision 2030, implemented and promoted by the Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is an initiative to reform and modernise the country. The reform programme aims to diversify the economy away from oil and towards promoting sustainable changes that will enhance the potential to empower Saudi women to pursue their career goals.
The Government’s initiatives include increasing the percentage of women in the workforce from 22% to 30% (Alshuwaikhat & Mohammed, 2017; Al-Sati, 2017). The Government has started the process to give Saudi women the opportunity to enter the workforce.
These processes include the following (Naseem & Dhruva, 2017; Al-Sati, 2017; Center of International Communication, 2018; BBC News, 2018):
- The General Directorate and Passport have already advertised 140 jobs for women to work in the airports and land-border crossings
- Recently, the Kingdom’s Public Prosecution Office announced that it would recruit women as investigators
- The Ministry of Justice plans to recruit 300 women as social researchers, administrative assistants, Islamic jurisprudence researchers, and legal researchers.
- The new law will permit Saudi women to join the armed forces.
- Work from home projects will encourage women to work without commuting to their work location. This project hopes to create 140,000 jobs by 2020.
- The Saudi Government will assist individuals with disabilities to receive education and job opportunities to allow them to be economically productive.
As mentioned above, many Saudi women were limited to work in certain fields. However, the new initiative will create opportunities for women to work in different fields, which will benefit the economy and society as a whole.
The Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC) is a government organisation, providing vocational education and training to Saudi citizens to prepare them for the workforce. These vocational training programmes include (UNESCO, 2015):
- Information Technology,
- Medical equipment handling,
- Mechanical technicians,
- Body care specialists, and
TVTC has opened 45 branches of technical colleges and 170 academies that issue internationally-recognised, professional certificates to provide training to young Saudis to meet the demands of the labour market (Muhammed, 2017). By 2020, the Ministry of Education aims to train 950,000 Saudi men and women in various technical and vocational trades (Muhammed, 2017). Over 1000 women residing in state homes have received and graduated from TVTC programmes (Muhammed, 2017), which affords them the opportunity to be financially independent.
Non-governmental organisation training programmes
Several non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are also been dedicated to creating employment opportunities and facilitating loans for poor and uneducated women in both urban and rural regions through vocational training and business loans (booz&co, 2010):
- The Al-Nahda Philanthropic Society for Women in Riyadh’s Training and Employment Center provides free training programmes and a website for recruitment and opportunities among Saudi women. This center has provided over 2,000 jobs for women in banks, factories, and social and health institutions.
- The King Abdul Aziz Women’s Charity Association’s Al Barakah Loans Center in Buraidah, Al Qassim finances projects for low-income divorced and widowed women. These projects include the sales of clothing, livestock, and furniture, as well as coffee stands.
- The non-profit Centennial Fund is an economic initiative to assist small businesses and young entrepreneurs outside the country’s largest cities. The organization provides loans as well as mentoring services to entrepreneurs for three years. It has assisted Saudi women in opening businesses in art and design, restaurants, beauty salons, clothing shops, and day-care centers.
Although Saudi Arabia is an oil rich country, many Saudi women continue to endure financial hardship (Aldosari, 2017; Booz&co, 2010). As mentioned above, Saudi Arabia is considered to have one of the lowest employment rates among women in the world. In 2012, more than 80% of Saudi’s receiving unemployment benefits were women (McDowall, 2012).
Therefore, Vision 2030 aims to increase the employment rate among this underrepresented population. Public sector efforts have been targeted towards providing training and employment among urban and educated women (booz&co, 2010). Many Saudi women in rural areas face higher literacy rates and fewer employment opportunities when compared to urban areas (booz&co, 2010).
It may be beneficial for the Government to provide online or hybrid technical trainings and courses along with literacy and language training programmes to women in remote regions to allow them to have access to learning materials without commuting long distances to training centers.
Hopefully Vision 2030 will enhance gender equality among Saudi women from diversity of socioeconomic statuses and regions, especially the poor and vulnerable. Giving Saudi women more options in careers and training programmes will allow them to be a productive part in society and afford them greater independence.
Although many Saudi women are highly educated, their unemployment rate remains high. The Government has developed several initiatives to provide employment and training opportunities among women in the Kingdom. Vision 2030’s aim is to increase the employment rate among Saudi women from 22% to 30%. In the past, many Saudi women were confined to the teaching profession. However, with an increase in training programmes in the country, many Saudi women will be able to pursue careers in other fields. In the long-term, this will benefit the economy and allow women to play a productive and more prominent role in society.
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