Gender Wage Gap in Saudi ArabiaThe gender wage gap in Saudi Arabia is an issue that forms part of the country’s gender inequality battles. Despite holding prominent positions in the workforce and making valuable contributions to the country’s economic growth, women continue to receive significantly less pay than their male counterparts. However, progress has been slow and women are still fighting for recognition and regard for their rights in the workforce. The issue of gender inequality in Saudi Arabia has been a long-standing problem with women facing numerous obstacles when it comes to achieving financial equality and more.

The Gender Pay Disparity in Saudi Arabia

In 2019, the Saudi Arabian Human Rights Commission (HRC) published a report revealing a significant wage gap between men and women in the country. The report indicates that women in Saudi Arabia earn only 56% of what men earn, with every one Saudi riyal earned by a man equating to a mere 0.56 riyals for women. The report’s findings prompted calls for change from human rights organizations and advocacy groups. However, despite the widespread attention to this issue, progress toward closing the gender wage gap in Saudi Arabia has been slow.

Apart from the gender wage gap issue, women often face exclusion from higher-paying jobs in sectors such as engineering, finance and technology. Furthermore, women are less likely to receive promotions to leadership positions, which are typically associated with higher salaries.

A study conducted by the King Khalid Foundation in 2020 found that women in Saudi Arabia face underrepresentation in the labor force. The study found that only 22% of working-age women in the country are employed compared to 76% of working-age men. The low participation rate of women in the workforce is partly due to cultural and social barriers that discourage women from pursuing careers outside of the home.

Progress for Women

Despite these challenges, Saudi Arabia has noted some progress in recent years in regard to the gender wage gap in Saudi Arabia. According to a report by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development, the gender pay gap in Saudi Arabia decreased by 7% between 2019 and 2021. Furthermore, in 2021, Saudi Arabia climbed 10 ranks in the global ranking of the gender pay gap by the World Economic Forum and advanced 12 ranks in terms of female participation in the workforce.

However, Saudi Arabia still has a long way to go in terms of achieving gender parity in the workplace. In the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022, Saudi Arabia ranked 127th out of 153 countries. The report highlighted several areas in which Saudi Arabia could improve, including promoting gender equality in the workplace and increasing the participation of women in the labor force.

To address the gender wage gap in Saudi Arabia, a cultural shift that promotes gender equality in the workplace is necessary. Employers need to ensure that women have equal access to career development opportunities and are promoted based on merit rather than gender. Furthermore, the government needs to take steps to encourage more women to enter the workforce, such as providing incentives to companies that employ women and investing in programs that provide training and support to women in the labor force.

The gender wage gap in Saudi Arabia remains a significant issue that requires urgent attention. Women in the country have a right to equal pay for equal work and the country as a whole will benefit from a more diverse and inclusive workforce. By promoting gender equality in the workplace and encouraging more women to enter the labor force, Saudi Arabia can take a significant step toward achieving true gender parity.

– Noura Matalqa
Photo: Flickr

Saudi Arabia's Support to Yemen
On February 21, 2023, Saudi Arabia signed an agreement to deposit $1 billion into the central bank of its middle eastern neighbor to the south, Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), in April 2022, promised $3 billion worth of aid to Yemen’s internationally recognized president, Rashal al-Alimi, in a bid to bolster the country’s struggling economy. Saudi Arabia’s recent support to Yemen aims to assist the Riyadh-backed government to introduce much-needed economic reforms.

The Crisis in Yemen

According to the World Bank, Yemen’s GDP per capita, steadily declining since the onset of the war in 2014, stood at $701.7 in 2018. This decline is likely the result of many governmental issues, but primarily an ongoing civil war entering its ninth year. According to the United Nations Population Fund, as a result of the devastating conflict, 21.6 million Yemeni people need humanitarian aid in 2023. About 80% of the population lives in conditions of poverty, struggling to secure their basic needs, including access to water, food and health services.

The conflict started when Houthi rebels took control of the country’s capital, Sanaa, with demands for lower fuel costs, which in January 2015, forced the Yemen government into exile. Later in March 2015, with U.S. support, Gulf states, including the UAE, driven by Saudi Arabia, began to push for “economic isolation and air strikes” against the Iran-backed insurgents.

Even with the help of multiple powerful countries, the civil war has all but torn to pieces Yemen’s already struggling economy. According to the Department of State, since the onset of the war, as of 2022, the U.S. has provided close to $4.5 billion worth of humanitarian aid to struggling Yemeni people.

Once importing 40% of its grain from Ukraine, food prices have skyrocketed in Yemen since supply chains came to halt following Russia’s invasion of the Eastern European country in February 2022. Additionally, oil refining and exportation — Yemen’s primary sources of income — have slowed acutely since Houthi attacks on tankers and crucial processing facilities.

According to the Middle East Institute, “…given that most of the oil exported from Yemen’s southern terminals is pumped out of fields in the southern part of the country, the Houthis’ attacks could reignite historical grievances over the distribution of resources.”

In an attempt to pay off debts and finance public work sector salaries, the Aden branch of the Yemeni central bank has printed new banknotes, increasing inflation in turn. Insurgent-regulated regions do not accept currency printed by the central bank of Aden.

Looking Ahead

The money that Saudi Arabia and the UAE pledged intended to combat these issues, however, it remains unclear as to whether Saudi Arabia’s recent support to Yemen in late February forms part of the $3 billion promise made with the UAE in April 2022.

Headquartered in Abu Dhabi and a sub-organization of the 22-member Arab League, the Arab Monetary Fund will help to ensure the correct use of Saudi Arabia’s recent support to Yemen in the form of the $1 million deposit. The financing intends to fund new initiatives to spur economic growth and address poverty in Yemen while “stabilizing the currency.”

A delicate ecosystem, the Arabian Peninsula is crucial in world oil and petroleum exports. Yemen sits at the very tip of the peninsula and Saudi Arabia neighbors it to the north and Oman neighbors it to the northeast. Aid pledged to Yemen is almost sure to have positive effects on Middle Eastern economies and the U.S. as supply chains are symbiotic relationships between countries.

– Stella Tirone
Photo: Flickr

Renewable Energy in Saudi Arabia
“You either get ahead [of changing weather patterns] or you are going to be buried by it,” suggested Saudi Arabia’s Climate Change Envoy at the COP27 conference in December 2022. This underscored the continued push toward renewable energy in Saudi Arabia as part of its Vision 2030 plan. Despite possessing around 17% of the world’s petroleum reserves, Saudi Arabia has considered diversifying its energy mix through investments in green technology and using its natural abundance of wind and sunlight. However, levels of crude oil production currently remain unchanged.

Saudi Arabia’s Circular Carbon Economy

The Saudi government is promoting a “circular carbon economy” — where actions offset carbon emissions rather than reducing output. The Kingdom set up the National Renewable Energy Program (NREP) to facilitate the pursuit of these goals. Through NREP, the Saudi government plans to transition 50% of its domestic energy supply to renewable sources by 2030. The government conceived the Saudi Green Initiative (SGI) as a framework for the Kingdom’s “green transition,” in line with the core aims of Vision 2030. The initiative seeks to:

  • Increase the percentage of renewable energy in Saudi Arabia’s domestic energy mix.
  • Reduce the country’s carbon emissions by more than 278 megatons per annum.
  • Help cut global methane emissions by 30% before 2030, in accordance with the Global Methane Pledge.

The SGI includes plans to plant 10 billion trees and restore 40 million hectares of degraded land over the coming decades as well as increase the size of the country’s protected wildlife and coastal areas. In terms of the expansion of renewable energy in Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom seeks to harness the power of its natural resources, utilizing infrastructure funded through a mixture of public and private sector investment.

Solar energy, the centerpiece of Saudi Arabia’s energy transition, has become increasingly important to the country’s domestic energy supply in recent years. The cost of solar power production decreased by around 90% over the last decade, making it a cheaper alternative to oil. As part of the Kingdom’s plans to install 41 gigawatts of solar capacity by 2032, new solar farms such as the Sakaka Solar Power Plant are being built. Sakaka, which opened in April 2021, uses photovoltaic energy to generate electricity, boasting 1.2 million solar panels over 6 square kilometers of land. The site’s 300-megawatt capacity is enough to power 44,000 houses. Additionally, the solar farm holds the world record for the lowest cost in the photovoltaic energy sector.

Wind energy, another locally abundant resource, is supplementing this solar push. The first wind farm in Saudi Arabia, the Dumat Al Jandal wind farm, was connected to the national grid at the end of 2021 and began producing energy. It is the largest wind farm in the Middle East. Like Sakaka, Dumat Al Jandal is one of many similar wind projects. It has the ability to power up to 70,000 households.

Recent Developments in Saudi Arabia’s Climate Plans

In September 2022, Saudi Arabia announced the launch of five new renewable energy projects: three wind projects and two solar projects. These projects are part of NREP and will have a total capacity of 3,300 megawatts. At COP27, Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz announced three more projects plus a greenhouse gas credit scheme for 2023 and the creation of a “Circular Carbon Economy Knowledge Hub.” The hub aims to foster international collaboration in circular carbon technology and facilitate the sharing of information and best practices by state- and private-sector actors.

Criticisms of Saudi Arabia’s Climate Initiatives

There are a number of critics of Saudi Arabia’s climate plan, particularly its plan for a circular carbon economy. The world authority on energy, the International Energy Agency, stated oil and gas investments must stop immediately if the world is going to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050. This statement contradicts the premise of a circular carbon economy.

There are also concerns about the practicality and economic viability of the carbon capture technology that the Saudis are currently promoting on a large scale. Climate activists suggest that the push toward renewable energy in Saudi Arabia is a superficial attempt to “greenwash” the country’s reputation, meaning mislead the public into thinking something is good for the environment when it is not, rather than address the real issues. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Matthew Archer, a researcher at the Graduate Institute Geneva, called the circular carbon economy plan “dangerous and delusional.”

Climate Initiatives and Job Creation

Regardless of whether Saudi Arabia’s energy transition impacts changing weather patterns, the economic effects are clear. According to the U.S.-Saudi Arabian Business Council, the Kingdom’s renewable energy sector could generate up to 750,000 jobs by 2030 as long as it remains a priority. The government plans to localize the sector with the aim of 40-45% of the workforce consisting of Saudi nationals by 2028. For example, 97% of Sakaka’s employees are Saudi Arabian, allowing for employment for locals with a range of skill levels.

Financial commitments, large-scale initiatives, and the construction of wind and solar farms across the nation show commitment to renewable energy. In Saudi Arabia, however, it is still too soon to tell whether the policies will be effective.

– Thomas Everill
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Eradication in Saudi Arabia
Vision 2030 is an ambitious Saudi government project to overhaul Saudi Arabia’s economy and society by the year 2030. Launched in 2016, its reforms include ambitious goals regarding poverty eradication in Saudi Arabia. Also and importantly, it hopes to transition Saudi Arabia from an oil-dependent economy to a diversified modern one. Together, the innovations in poverty eradication in Saudi Arabia and the transition to a more diversified economy should position Saudi Arabia as an economic leader in the Middle East. In fact, Vision 2030 has gained acclaim as a model for rapid modernization and innovative poverty eradication in middle-income and developing countries.

Renewable Energy Revolution

Two hallmarks of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 are expanding job opportunities for young Saudis in non-oil sectors of the economy and reducing poverty by raising living standards. In 2016, the government announced its ambitious goal to acquire 50% of its energy from renewable energy by 2030. For this reason, it pledged a $400 billion investment to expand the renewable energy sector. In turn, this investment embraces new technologies that will expand economic opportunities for Saudi citizens in the renewable energy sector, and that leads to poverty eradication that can raise living standards in the country. The program will also reduce pollution and promote human health, important for poverty reduction. The Saudi move to renewable energy is also meant to curb Saudi carbon emissions that account for 4% of the total global output. 

Futuristic Commercial Hubs Could Make Saudi Arabia a Global Business Center

As part of Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia announced its intention to build Neom, a futuristic city in the northwest region of the country on the Red Sea coast. This $500 billion project positions Neom as a center for trade, investment, tourism and technology. The Neom project embodies the overarching Vision 2030 goals because renewable energy sources will power Noem entirely. Further, the project underscores the diversification policies of Vision 2030 because Noem will heavily on foreign investment to drive tourism and the use of Neom as a cargo hub.

Since the Saudi government launched Vision 2030 in 2016 foreign direct investment (FDI) in the country has skyrocketed from $5.321 billion to $17.625 billion as of Fall 2021. This increase in investment and trade is an indicator of modernization measures and accomplishments of Vision 2030.

Investments in Smart Technology to Drive Entrepreneurship

Saudi Arabia’s government pledged unprecedented levels of investment in developing the country’s technology sector. The hope is to become a knowledge-driven economy. The Saudi government pledged $6.4 billion for investments in smart technologies as part of Vision 2030 to make the country a center of the global technology industry. Part of this program has included a $1.2 billion investment in training 100,000 Saudi youths for careers in the smart technology sector. This will occur by improving digital skills including familiarity with AI, 5G and cybersecurity. For example, The Garage Start-Up District program encourages start-up companies and other entrepreneurs by providing grants, marketing and training support and full-service workspaces. By creating job opportunities for Saudis in a modern economy, these programs should reduce poverty rates for Saudis entering this emerging technology sector.

Smart Technologies to Promote Health Care Access

Just as much of Vision 2030 focuses heavily on the growth of the technology sector, the Saudi government also is using smart technology to promote quality health care access through mobile apps. One app called Sehha offers remote medical and preventative care. Launched in 2017, Sehha provided 2.1 million consultations by 2020.

Mawid, another health app, allowed 14.3 million Saudis to book 67 million medical appointments from 2018-2020. The Tabaud app was also one of the first of its kind in the world to provide its 3 million users with Bluetooth notifications of contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. This enabled users to quarantine and the government to effectively contact trace to contain outbreaks. This smart technology is particularly important for rural communities living further away from hospital infrastructure. These new innovations that safeguard human health boost the goal of eradicating poverty through having a labor force healthy enough to contribute to a modernizing economy.

Vision 2030 presents innovation in poverty eradication in Saudi Arabia while also striking a balance between development and environmental concerns. All of this is also important for reducing poverty by diversifying the economy and maintaining human health. If Saudi Arabia continues its ambitious economic reforms, it can present an appealing model for other middle-income and developing countries to replicate. Finally, modernization and poverty eradication would foster a more prosperous and stable world.

– John Zak
Photo: Flickr

Economic Diversification in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s most prominent industry is the oil and gas industry. The oil and gas industry has made Saudi Arabia extremely wealthy. However, in recent years, the government has decided to diversify the economy. The involvement of more industries in the job market could create more jobs for Saudis. Here is some information about economic diversification in Saudi Arabia.

Oil and Gas in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia provides about 11% of the world’s oil. It is the second-largest oil provider after the U.S. Since 1938 when Saudi Arabia first struck oil, the gross domestic product (GDP) regarding oil and gas has seen mostly positive growth. Conversely, the oil and gas sector makes up 50% of Saudi Arabia’s GDP. The oil and gas sector also makes up 70% of all export earnings. However, some estimates go as high as 90%.

Saudi Aramco is the official oil company in Saudi Arabia. In 2020, Aramco made $229.9 billion USD in revenue and employed 66,800 people. The average salary people receive at Saudi Aramco is $129,083. Even on the lower spectrum, the salary is around $60,000. Good pay creates high competition for any other job market that tries to take off. In addition, creating more jobs that are not in the oil industry is beneficial because people of all skills and education levels can seek employment.

Saudi Arabia’s Dependence on Oil and Gas

In 2016, Saudi Arabia announced a new program called Vision 2030. One of the focuses of this program is economic diversification in Saudi Arabia. Specifically, the goal is to broaden Saudi Arabia’s exports and income possibilities from oil and gas to other necessary avenues like transportation and entertainment.

Economic diversification in Saudi Arabia has already proven to be beneficial because oil prices took a massive hit during the ongoing pandemic. China is one of Saudi Arabia’s largest oil importers. Because of the pandemic decreasing travel, Saudi Arabia’s oil exports to China have drastically decreased as well. In addition, Saudi Arabia’s oil exports to the rest of the world have declined because of the pandemic. The severe decrease in oil exports has contributed to the lowering of its GDP from 0.3% in 2019 to -6.8% in 2020. These numbers show how the reliance on gas and oil is detrimental to Saudi Arabia’s economy.

Diversifying Saudi Arabia’s Economy

The goal for the revamp of Saudi Arabia’s economy is not just about diversity but also about making knowledgeable job growth decisions that make sense for Saudis. The goal is to have an economy that relies more heavily on the private sector than the government. Getting Saudis working in the private sector and creating jobs that match people’s skills will be crucial to the success of this plan.

The government’s plans on achieving economic diversification are to increase foreign investment, increase the amount of small and medium businesses and create jobs by developing what the government is calling mega-projects. Mega-projects and the new jobs could be part of several sectors looking to expand including tourism, transportation, entertainment and others.

While the drop in oil sales has created setbacks in the economic diversification of Saudi Arabia, that has not discouraged the country. Despite COVID-19, Saudi Arabia is determined to continue the diversification process by continuing with already planned projects.

– Shelby Tomassini
Photo: Flickr

Fight for Women's RightsWomen’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul has been a symbol of the fight for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia for the last several years. Al-Hathloul has been making moves to actively challenge aspects of the Saudi system and spark change in hopes of disrupting government narratives and dismantling gender discrimination.

Al-Hathloul’s History with Women’s Rights

Al-Hathloul has made her presence as a Saudi Arabian women’s rights activist known on more than one occasion with a series of bold actions opposing the Saudi government’s stances on certain issues. For example, al-Hathloul openly expressed her opinion on the nation’s driving ban for women in 2013. Shortly after, her father took a video of her while she was driving in Saudi Arabia that went viral. Al-Hathloul was arrested and held for more than 70 days as she tried to cross the border from the United Arab Emirates into Saudi Arabia while driving.

She also shaped a campaign against the male guardianship system, which she believes consistently limits the rights of women. Al-Hathloul was among 14,000 signers on a petition to abolish the male guardianship system and was also one of the first women to stand for municipal elections in Saudi Arabia. In March 2018, al-Hathloul and more than 10 other women’s rights activists were arrested for their efforts to oppose the Saudi government. The group faced imprisonment and the media denounced the women. About a month after al-Hathloul’s arrest, the Saudi government lifted the driving ban. However, she faced a sentence of nearly six years in prison under multiple charges.

Her Family’s Plea and Her Ordeal

Notably charged under “Saudi counter-terrorism law,” Al-Hathloul attempted to appeal her initial guilty verdict. Al-Hathloul’s sister Lina has consistently advocated for Al-Hathloul’s case. Lina informed the public, together with several supportive organizations, of the torture, sexual assault and solitary confinement al-Hathloul underwent in prison. The Saudi authorities have rejected accusations of torture or wrongdoing. Al-Hathloul even went on a hunger strike to protest the conditions she and the other reformers were subject to because she did not want to endure such conditions anymore.

Lina has pleaded to the international community for support. Organizations call for reform in Saudi Arabia and for the involvement of Saudi Arabia’s allies. The Saudi government’s connections to the international community could lead to reform. Lina has called for the release of the reformers and has said, “I have no choice but to speak out and use my voice because my sister cannot. Our silence will not keep them safe.”

Where the Situation Stands

After approximately three years imprisoned, Saudi Arabia released al-Hathloul with limitations. Due to the kingdom’s human rights records, President Biden’s administration took stances that reflected a reconsideration of the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Al-Hathloul’s release has been perceived as a strategic diplomatic action by the Saudi government to relieve international pressures to improve conditions for women.

Today, improvements like the driving ban’s fall speak to the impact of al-Hathloul and other women like her. Though the situation remains challenging for al-Hathloul and her family, renewed international support gives hope for the future. As the fight for women’s rights continues, Saudi Arabia stands as a critical example of slow but deliberate change led by women.

Annamarie Perez
Photo: Flickr

Improvements in Tourism in Saudi ArabiaIn recent years, the Saudi Arabian government has made tourism a priority because of Vision 2030. Vision 2030 is a strategy created by the Saudi Arabian government to improve the country in several different areas, tourism being one of them. Increased tourism has expanded the economy and is also improving the lives of the citizens. With tourism comes more forms of entertainment that benefit Saudi Arabians and attracts visitors from other countries.

How has tourism helped the economy?

The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) states that in 2019, travel and tourism comprised 9.8% of Saudi Arabia’s GDP. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the tourism industry hard. In 2020, that percentage went down to 7.1%. Even with the decrease in tourism because of the pandemic, tourism in Saudi Arabia is still performing relatively well. For instance, the tourism industry provided 12.2% of employment in Saudi Arabia as of 2019; that figure went down to 11% in 2020.

How has entertainment improved in Saudi Arabia?

Additionally, one of Vision 2030’s goals is to create more entertainment for Saudi people. Entertainment and tourism go hand in hand. One of the biggest developments is that Saudi Arabia had a cinema open recently. A cinema opening in Saudi Arabia is notable. For the last several decades, there have been no cinemas in the country. Now, more than 30 new ones have opened.

More so, there has been an increase in entertainment venues in general. From 154 in 2017 to 277 in 2020, these venues vary from cinemas to amusement parks. The Saudi Arabia government is determined to have a successful entertainment market. By 2030, estimates say the entertainment sector will be worth $1170.72 million. As of 2020, the market is worth $23.77 million. Tourism in Saudi Arabia will benefit from these changes because visitors will now have more options for entertainment when they visit.

What is the Saudi Arabian government doing to meet these goals?

Vision 2030 is where the improvements for entertainment stem from. One of the categories for Vision 2030 is a “vibrant society,” which connects to improving the daily lives of Saudis while preserving cultural values. The Saudi government has implemented the General Authority for Entertainment (GAE), which directly supports the funding to improve the entertainment sector. A tourism e-visa that costs $173 is also available, opening the legal pathway for people to enter the country.

What is next for tourism in Saudi Arabia?

The pandemic has slowed down progress for tourism and entertainment to flourish in Saudi Arabia, seeing as unnecessary visits into the country have halted. The revenue from the entertainment sector is suffering, as is employment for people who work in the industry. However, Saudi Arabia has a solid infrastructure now to uphold its entertainment industry; it is a priority for the nation. Saudi Arabia is determined to reach its goals for Vision 2030 and get back on track for when the pandemic is finally over.

– Shelby Tomassini
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Saudi Arabia
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Saudi Arabia is undeniable, especially when considering the growing unemployment rate. During the non-pandemic years, around 10%-20% of Saudi Arabians were in poverty and many of that number were women. However, Saudi Arabia’s government has not released specifics regarding poverty or homelessness.

COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia led to 8,591 deaths and 539,698 cases as of August 18, 2021. Additionally, the government administered approximately 32.8 million doses of the vaccine to Saudi Arabians. Saudi Arabia has a strict mask policy, requiring all people to wear a mask in all public places. Otherwise, unmasked individuals will receive a fine of 10,000 Saudi Riyals, which is almost $3,000.

Unemployment and Poverty in Saudi Arabia

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Saudi Arabia certainly begins with unemployment. The unemployment rate rose from 6.13% in 2019 to 8.22% in 2020 because of COVID-19. Most people in Saudi Arabia work in the oil and gas industry. Furthermore, the reduction of oil prices due to the pandemic caused the country’s economy to suffer and have significant layoffs. At the end of 2020, the unemployment rate in the gas and oil sector was 12.6%. However, it decreased to 11.7% at the beginning of 2021. The increase in layoffs made the job market more competitive. Unemployed men and women with no prior job experience must compete for jobs with people who have more work experience.

Furthermore, the pandemic severely affected women in the job market. Women are struggling because their main career areas are private-sector jobs such as retail and education. These types of jobs are core areas where the pandemic stay-at-home policies caused quite a shift. Additionally, half of the young Saudi women do not have employment and do not have education or formal training. COVID-19 is slowing the process for Saudi women to join the workforce. Closing schools and daycare made it difficult for women to work because someone needs to stay home with their children.

What is Saudi Arabia Doing to Help?

In 2016, the Saudi Arabian government created Vision 2030, a strategy to improve many aspects of the country by 2030. Tourism and women’s rights are examples of Vision 2030’s goals. However, the larger aim is to improve the overall life of people in Saudi Arabia. Concerning women and jobs, the goal is to encourage women to go to college and develop their talents. Saudi Arabia is making efforts for women to have more job security and improve their quality of life. In fact, from 2017 to 2020, the percentage of women in the workforce increased from 20% to 33%. Women having more job security and opportunities will make challenging events such as COVID-19 more manageable in the future.

According to the Vision 2030 plan, Saudia Arabia will address poverty. The plan also stated that “subsidies for fuel, food, water and electricity will be better utilized by redirecting them towards those in need.” The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Saudi Arabia slowed down the progress of Vision 2030, but the strategy is still flourishing. Vision 2030 is important because it is building a stronger infrastructure for Saudi Arabia, especially for the poor and women.

– Shelby Tomassini
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in Saudi Arabia
In April 2021, a young migrant worker named Caroline Aluoch requested permission to return to her home in Kenya. However, her employer denied her due to his rights under the kafala system. A few months later, Aluoch’s family received a report that she had died during her employment sponsorship. Devastated by their loss, Aluoch’s family recently spoke out about how the kafala system renders migrant laborers particularly vulnerable to human trafficking in Saudi Arabia. Here is some information about the problem as well as efforts working towards ending human trafficking in Saudi Arabia.

Foreign Labor in Saudi Arabia

Workers from low and middle-income countries often seek better wages by taking on foreign jobs. The migrant laborer population in Saudi Arabia is around 13 million people. It consists of people from South and Southeast Asia and Africa working at jobs in construction, agriculture and domestic service.

Most of these workers enter the country through legal labor channels. These workers must adhere to certain restrictions under the employment sponsorship system. This system, known as kafala, began in the 1950s to promote labor sharing in the Gulf Nations. Without reform, though, restrictions through kafala can force laborers to remain in potentially unsafe and exploitative work environments.

Problems with Kafala

The kafala sponsorship system requires foreign workers to obtain a Saudi sponsor in order to work. The sponsor, who is most often the Saudi employer, has the right to decide if and when a foreign worker can transfer jobs or leave Saudi Arabia. According to the 2020 Trafficking in Persons (TIPS) report, one of the most common complaints from exploited migrant workers in Saudi Arabia is that of non- or delayed wage payment. Under the kafala system, workers can become trapped in the unpaid situation.

When laborers face delayed and non-payments, they become more susceptible to economic coercion into other exploitative employment, such as organized begging or commercial sex. As an employment requirement, the kafala system creates a cycle of potential exploitation for foreign workers.

Saudi Government Efforts

In the past few years, officials have developed a legal infrastructure suited to dealing specifically with human trafficking in Saudi Arabia. These specialized courts and screenings intend to protect domestic and foreign trafficked victims and prevent future trafficking. Here are some of the Saudi government’s efforts so far:

  • Law enforcement investigated, prosecuted and convicted human traffickers.
  • Workshops and seminars instructed recruitment agencies on how to teach foreign workers about their rights.
  • The new National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is giving identified trafficking victims the choice of staying in Saudi Arabia and transferring jobs or returning home.
  • The Expansion of the Wage Protection System allows the government to monitor delayed or non-paid wages.

Saudi Arabia and many of its labor-sending countries agree that government oversight of labor has improved, which has benefitted domestic and foreign workers.

Reform to Kafala System

While the Kingdom has made great strides to create safeguards and systems to protect potential trafficking victims, stories like Caroline Aluoch’s demonstrate the current dangers of the kafala system. Sponsorship reform is one of the prioritized recommendations for ending human trafficking in Saudi Arabia, according to the TIPS Report.

Because the kafala system is a decades-old, multinational system, progress has been slow. As global labor organizations have pushed for reform of the sponsorship system, some Gulf Nations have altered the employee restrictions within specific countries. In 2021, Saudi Arabia enacted plans to reduce employee restrictions and protect migrant laborers.

Two big changes to the Saudi implementation of the kafala system seem extremely promising; first, laborers will be allowed to leave the Kingdom without explicit permission from their employers. Second, workers will be able to transfer jobs without their employers’ permission once an employment contract ends. These changes should protect workers like Caroline Aluoch, who wanted to return home when she deemed her work environment too dangerous. Reform to the kafala system is a crucial step towards ending human trafficking in Saudi Arabia.

Hayley Welch
Photo: Flickr

Mental Health in Saudi Arabia
Mental health in Saudi Arabia is an urgent concern for the Kingdom’s government. Nearly one-fifth of those seeking healthcare assistance show signs of mental health challenges. In some areas, almost half of the population is in need of mental healthcare services. The government recognizes its shortcomings and is taking steps to reduce such numbers and serve the needs of its citizens.

Reducing Stigma

The stigmatization of mental health in Saudi Arabia is slowly decreasing. In past years, many Saudi Arabians have been ashamed to seek mental health treatment. Many frowned upon therapy as they considered mental illness a sign of weakness.

In a 2016 study to measure the rate of depression in the country, 14.3% of prospective participants declined for the reason that the survey was about mental health. When seeking therapy sessions, many patients were afraid to show their faces. These sentiments have left mental health conditions untreated, leading to economic challenges and causing individuals to fall into poverty.

In the past few years, the younger generation has stepped up and taken a stand in favor of mental healthcare. The attitude towards mental health is changing due to a variety of factors including upbringing and the awareness that is spreading throughout the nation. Both the Internet and contact with patients who suffer from mental conditions serve to increase awareness and confidence towards mental health. Now, when attending therapy sessions, many young Saudi Arabians are unafraid to show their identity.

Improving Mental Healthcare Services

The government began improving mental healthcare services in 1983. In an effort to address the country’s mental health crisis, the Saudi Arabian government created the General Department for Mental and Social Health (GDMSH) in 1983. The Department has the task of improving access to and the quality of mental healthcare throughout the nation.

Primary healthcare centers (PHCs) became available with the purpose of opening up these services to Saudi Arabian citizens. Additionally, GDMSH uses the First National Strategic Plan to modernize psychiatric facilities and provide well-trained staff for mental healthcare institutions. Maintaining the privacy of individuals who seek therapy became an issue left for the GDMSH to resolve. In response, the GDMSH has been working to protect the rights of each patient in the mental healthcare system.

Mental Health Law

In 2014, Saudi Arabia established a mental health law. The government sought out assistance from the World Health Organization (WHO) to compile data on the state of mental health services in the country. Saudi Arabia converted its findings into legislation with the passing of the Mental Health Law.

The law incorporates many parts of WHO’s United Nations Principles for the Protection of Persons with Mental Illness and the Improvement of Mental Health Care. It provides a clear definition of mental health and emphasizes the need to seek voluntary mental healthcare rather than involuntary. It outlines special cases when involuntary healthcare may become used.

The law also adheres to the Saudi Arabian custom of involving family in all healthcare matters. Patients and their relatives receive information on how their rights will undergo maintenance throughout the treatment process. Should the treatment breach patients’ rights, they will have the entitlement to bring their case to court with a lawyer to represent them. The law remains dedicated to maintaining security throughout the treatment process.

Moving Forward

Saudi Arabia has made great steps towards improving its mental healthcare. Today, the nation has a 55% ratio of psychiatric nurses to overall mental healthcare professionals, which is 37% higher than that of most developed countries.

Additionally, through the GDMSH’s efforts to improve the quality of mental healthcare, the country has a ratio of 18.4 beds to 100,000 citizens. The amount of beds is greater than the number of therapy appointments, which is a goal that many developed countries hope to achieve. The nation has more progress to make in its mental health journey, but Saudi Arabia is on the right track.

Mariam Kazmi
Photo: Flickr