Although the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is known for human rights violations and women’s oppression, the Saudi government has made several changes in the past few years to change its reputation. These changes include giving women in Saudi Arabia the right to drive, vote and start their own business.
Saudi Arabia ranked 138 out of 144 on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. Although this is a very low ranking, the report also acknowledges significant progress made over the past several years that is slowly moving the country toward gender equality. There is still room for improvement when it comes to the women’s dress code, male guardianship and sex segregation.
Women’s empowerment can help fight poverty when women become self-sufficient and turn into active contributors to the economy. Several steps have been taken by the government in order to increase the role of women in Saudi Arabia.
Women in Saudi Arabia in the Workplace
In 2011, King Abdullah announced the decision to allow women in Saudi Arabia to work in the retail sector in lingerie stores. This made many women financially independent and gave them the opportunity to participate in the economy. In the past few years, it has become more common for women to work in retail and hold other public jobs.
In 2018, several positions even opened for women to work at the country’s airports. According to a report released by the Ministry of Labor and Social Development in 2017, Saudi Arabia had a 130 percent increase in the number of Saudi women in the workplace. Additionally, women can now start their own businesses without permission from their male guardians.
Saudi Women in Government
In the past few years, steps have been taken to allow women in Saudi Arabia to be represented in government and even make several government jobs available to them. In 2011, women gained the right to vote under King Abdullah. Since elections do not happen often in Saudi Arabia, the first time they were able to exercise this right to vote was in 2015.
Additionally, women were also appointed to 30 seats of the Shura Council, a legislative advisory body, making up 20 percent of the council. In 2018, women also began working as investigators in the public prosecutor’s office for the first time.
Women’s Social Integration
In 2017, King Salman ordered that women be allowed access to government services such as education and healthcare without the need of consent from her guardian. However, the guardianship system still remains.
Most recently, in September of 2017, King Salman announced that women in Saudi Arabia would be able to drive starting in June 2018. Before this, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world restricting female driving. The change was a result of international pressure and many Saudi women’s efforts advocating for the right to drive. This is a huge step forward as women will now have the freedom to take their kids to school, drive themselves to work and transport themselves as they wish without the need of a man.
Saudi Women in the Military
Saudi Arabia opened up noncombat military jobs in Riyadh, Mecca, al-Qassim and Medina to women in February 2018. These jobs will allow women to work in security. There are several requirements to apply for these positions including Saudi citizenship and holding a high school diploma, but it is a major change to allow women to form part of the Saudi military for the first time in history.
Although change is slow, it is clear through recent government reforms that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is heading in the right direction when it comes to women’s rights.
– Luz Solano-Flórez