Politics & News

6 years of MBS as Crown Prince: Now Saudi women enjoy new freedoms

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has achieved all the goals related to women’s empowerment promised by Saudi Vision 2030. It has exceeded the required percentage for nearly nine years.

Five years after the launch of Vision 2030, history will record those years as empowering Saudi women.

At the end of 2015, the march promised by His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Defense, began, bearing the main title of “Women Empowerment.”

This march exceeded all women empowerment goals 9 years before the date.

Since the start of the march, the gains of Saudi women have continued with the issuance of royal orders that were accompanied by legislation that provides Saudi women with a safe environment to work and achieve equality with men.

This contributed to increasing women’s participation in the labor market from 19% in 2016 to 33.2% by 2020, exceeding the goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which set 30% as a target for women’s participation in the labor market by 2030.

While the unemployment rate among Saudi women recorded its lowest historical level at the end of 2020 at 24.4%, after 293,232 women entered the labor market during the last 4 years.

As Saudis celebrate six years since His Royal Highness Mohammed bin Salman was promoted to Saudi Crown Prince, LEADERS MENA magazine, in turn, monitors the series of gains Saudi women have obtained since this date and the launch of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which was reflected in the numbers.

The beginning was at the end of 2015, the first year of King Salman taking over the reins of power, when the first municipal elections in which women participated as voters and candidates in the history of the Kingdom were held on December 12, 2015, which culminated in 21 women winning seats in the municipal council elections in its third session.

Empowering Women  

On September 26, 2017, Saudi women were on the verge of a historic decision to issue a royal order allowing women to issue a car driving license following Sharia regulations, so for the first time in their history, Saudi women began driving a car starting from June 24, 2018.

On February 14, 2018, Saudi women were allowed to start their own businesses and benefit from government services without their guardians’ consent.

The Saudi government translated the Saudi leadership’s directives to empower women in various fields; therefore, women assumed some jobs previously monopolized by men in the public and private sectors.

The year 2018 also witnessed the issuance of an anti-harassment system, which encouraged women to participate more widely, and opened up areas for them that were not open before. On February 23, 2019, Saudi women were appointed to significant positions; Princess Rima bint Bandar was appointed Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, becoming the first woman to hold this position.

On August 2, 2019, women were granted more rights on multiple levels. They were allowed to obtain passports and leave the country without their guardians. Women also had the same rights guaranteed to men. The system ensured she could obtain a passport, just like a man. She had the right to travel after reaching 21 years of age without the consent of a guardian.

It was also approved to amend the labor system, grant more rights to women, and place them on an equal footing with men.

Saudi women made many gains in 2020.

In October 2020, Amal Yahya Al-Mouallimi was appointed ambassador to Norway. She became the second woman to hold this position after Princess Rima bint Bandar was appointed in 2019, as the Kingdom’s ambassador to Washington.

Al-Mouallimi’s appointment came two days after King Salman issued a royal order appointing Dr. Hanan bint Abdul Rahim bin Mutlaq Al-Ahmadi, assistant to the Speaker of the Shura Council at an excellent rank, to be also the first woman to hold the position.

Moreover, under the royal order, 12 women out of 30 women retained their seats in the Shura Council in its current session. In addition, 18 new female members joined the council.

In June 2020, the appointment of the first woman to the Saudi Royal Guard was revealed. In July 2020, 13 women were appointed to the new Human Rights Commission council, representing half of the council members.

Princess Rima bint Bandar bin Sultan was also elected as the first member of the International Olympic Committee. She became the first Saudi woman, and the third to represent her country on the International Olympic Committee.

As of August 2020, the first woman has been appointed to the position of Secretary of the Saudi Regional Council, Dr. Kholoud Al-Khamis.

The aforementioned position is considered one of the most significant positions in administrative and development work at the level of regions in the country.

This was preceded by Saudi women entering ambulance driving. Sarah Al-Anzi became the first Saudi woman to drive an ambulance to transport patients and treat the wounded.

In October 2020, jockey Dalma Rushdi Malhas was appointed head of the Athletes Advisory Committee. This concerns the bid to host the 2030 Asian Games in Riyadh. This is a significant precedent for women to lead in sports.

In January 2021, Princess Haifa bint Abdulaziz Al Muqrin was appointed as the permanent delegate of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization “UNESCO”.

This empowers Saudi women and enhances the country’s 2030 vision.

At the governmental level, the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development has led several qualitative initiatives to empower women, overcome obstacles, and enable them to obtain appropriate opportunities. This will enable them to contribute to society and the economy’s development.

Nowadays, Saudi working women are allowed to join the labor market and continue in it. In addition, they are assured of care for their children during their work period.

Moreover, this article sheds light on an initiative to support and facilitate working women’s transportation through the “Wusul” program.

The aforementioned initiative aims to find solutions that reduce transportation costs for workers and increase women’s participation rates and support their job stability.

It is also possible to expand the employment field for the more national workforce in the Kingdom who find it difficult to commit to coming to work full-time with the implementation of “Promoting Remote Work”, which aims to provide a flexible manner of hiring.

As a result of these efforts, the official figures for the work bulletin came at the end of 2020 to reveal government policies’ success in empowering women in recent years.

These policies have become the most prominent feature of the Saudi economy’s transformation and comprehensive restructuring since the launch of Vision 2030.

According to the data of the quarterly labor market bulletin issued by the Saudi General Authority for Statistics, the number of females who entered the labor market during the last four years reached 293,232, with an increase in the number of female workers in the Saudi economy from 1,019,283 employed at the end of 2016 to 1,312,515 employed at the end of 2020.

This increased Saudi women’s participation in the economy to 33.2% at the end of 2020, up from 19% at the end of 2016.

The bulletin data shows that Saudi women employed in the government sector reached 573,706, representing 38% of the total citizens working in the government sector. In contrast, their number in the private sector reached 599,161 Saudi women, representing 34% of the total Saudis working in the sector.

The data indicate that the average monthly wage for Saudi women in the labor market is SAR 8,951 per month. This rises for female workers in the government sector to SAR 10,807 per month. In contrast, the amount decreases to SAR 5,175 per month in the private sector.

According to the bulletin, it is clear that the total monthly salaries of Saudi women working in the government sector are estimated at SAR 6.2 billion per month, or about SAR 74.4 billion annually, while the monthly salaries of female citizens working in the private sector are estimated at SAR 3.1 billion per month or about SAR 37.2 billion per year, bringing the total monthly income of Saudi women working in the public and private sectors to about SAR 8.24 billion, bringing their total annual income to about SAR 111.6 billion.

As a result of the increase in Saudi women entering the labor market, the unemployment rate among females in Saudi Arabia decreased from 34.5% at the end of 2016 to 24.4% at the end of 2020, which is a new historical level for female unemployment rate, despite the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the global and local economy.

The data indicate a continuous increase in the percentage of Saudi women working in various economic activities of the private sector, as wholesale and retail trade activities absorb the highest number of Saudi women working with 173,789 female workers, representing 40% of the total Saudis working in this activity, followed by construction activity with 96,558 female employees, constituting 34% of the total number of Saudi women working in this activity.

While health and social service activities are the third-largest activity that absorbs Saudi women, with a total of 82,058 female employees, constituting 46% of Saudis working in the activity.

Meanwhile, administrative and support services activities came as the fifth largest activities accommodating Saudi women with a total number of 46,238 female employees, representing 35% of the Saudis working in the activity, then the education activity as the sixth-largest activity accommodating Saudi women working in the private education sector with a total of 43,519 female employees, constituting 61% of the Saudis working in the activity, thus, it is the largest activity in terms of the percentage of Saudi women working.

Saudi women’s empowerment decisions have also been translated internationally.

For the second year in a row, the Kingdom advances in the “Women, Business Activities, and Law 2021” report, issued by the World Bank Group. This report aims to compare the level of discrimination in gender systems in economic development and entrepreneurship among 190 countries.

This progress is due to some reforms that have paved the way for women’s participation in economic development. These reforms include non-discrimination in work between men and women, the equal retirement age for men and women, allowing women to work in many new sectors, and encouraging and supporting women to assume leadership positions.


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