By Nilofar Suhrawardy
RIYADH, Feb. 26 (Rahnuma): Described as year of landmarks for Saudi women, 2018 includes many firsts with maximum attention gained by their being permitted to drive. Saudi women were allowed for first time to visit a sports stadium to watch a local soccer match. Seating areas were marked out for them. Another first was acceptance of applications from women by Saudi military. Subsequently, a flight school announced its plan to admit
fairer gender. Saudi Arabia permitted a mixed-gendered concert for first time last April.
Within six months of being granted the permission to drive, more than 40,000 Saudi women have acquired driving licenses. This move is expected to encourage Saudi women to join workforce and contribute $90 billion to Saudi economy by 2030. The ban on their driving was lifted last June as part of a wider effort to transform the
Kingdom under the Vision 2030 programme, launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016.
No country can move forward by sidelining its fairer gender and Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 acknowledges this fact with its focus on into tapping on Saudi women’s economic potential. Saudi Ministry of Labour and Development is working towards increasing percentage of women in workforce to 28 percent by 2020 and to 30 percent in 2030 from 22 percent at present. Official figures released by this ministry state that number of Saudi women working in private sector increased by 130 percent from 2012 to 2016. Several projects launched under National Transformation Programme 2020, to enable women to work from home, are expected to generate 141,000 jobs.
Politically, the preceding year witnessed appointment of four women to key posts. These included Tamadur bin Youssef Al-Ramah’s appointment as first woman to post of deputy labour minister. Professor Kawther bint Mousa Al-Abrash and Dr. Ghada Bint Ghunaim Al-Ghunaim were appointed as members of Board of Trustees of King Abdulaziz Centre for National Dialogue. These three appointments were made in February. Iman Al-Mutairi was appointed as an assistant commerce minister in December.
2019 promises to be an equally transformative year for Saudi women as several key decisions to create more employment opportunities for women have been initiated. Women would be able to start their business “freely,” without a guardian’s permission from February, according to Saudi Ministry of Commerce and Investment. The Ministry of Labour and Development aims to make work environment suitable for women.
Earlier, Saudi women were not permitted to take decisions regarding their pregnancy. Now, as per the Saudi health ministry’s announcement, women can learn about status of their pregnancy and decide on how they want to deliver without a written consent from their male guardians. Equally significant is new rule about their being notified by text message on their being divorced. This aims to stop practice of husbands divorcing their wives without informing them.
Steps taken for progress of Saudi women can be traced to recent history. Saudi Arabia’s Consultative Assembly, known as Shura Council, has 150 members of which 30 are women. They were included for first time in February 2013 in presence of late King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. Drawing attention to importance of empowering Saudi women to play bigger role throughout the country, King Salman focussed on this also during his annual address to Shura Council, last year.
Positive image of Saudi women and their success are likely to be significant symbols for Muslim women in other parts of world. As for instance, for Haj, Saudi government relaxed mehram (male guardian) provision for women over 45 years, travelling in organised groups, in 2014. Indian government changed its rules on Saudi lines, enabling more than 1300 Indian women to go for Haj without mehram in 2018.
Interestingly, Saudi women have outsmarted men in certain areas. In 2015, they constituted 52 percent of university graduates in Saudi Arabia. While Saudi women’s progress stands out, they still need male guardian’s permission to get married, for passports and other reasons. But within less than a decade, Saudi women have
broken many barriers. They have a long way to go and are moving towards it!