Increasing the participation of women in the workforce from 22 per cent to 30 per cent is one of the main goals in Saudi Vision 2030.
In the past five years, Saudi Arabia has been appointing more women in decision-making positions. In 2011, the late King Abdullah gave women the right to join the Shoura Council and the right to run and vote in the municipal elections, which became a reality in 2015.
In 2013, women were appointed to the Shoura Council for the first time and 30 had become members. Today, the representation of Saudi women on the Shoura Council stands at 20 per cent.
Three months ago, three women — Sarah Al-Suhaimi, Rania Nashar and Latifa Al-Shabhan — were appointed in the male-dominant financial sector to the positions of the chair of the Saudi stock exchange, Tadawul, CEO of Samba Financial Group and chief financial officer of Arab National Bank (ANB), respectively.
Women no longer need guardians’ consent
A new royal decree issued by King Salman on Thursday says that women are no longer required to obtain consent from their guardians for services provided to them, “unless there is a legal basis for this request in accordance with the provisions of the Islamic Shariah”.
“This came in a royal directive to all concerned government agencies, after approval of proposals raised by the General Secretariat of the Council of Ministers to resolve issues related to human rights,” according to the royal decree.
In related developments, the Shoura Council is scheduled to meet on May 9 to discuss and consider a recommendation that demands the Interior Ministry support women driving.
Advocates welcome changes to the law
Many advocates of the empowerment of Saudi women hailed the new announcement, as needing a male guardian’s consent can pose significant obstacle for women in the workforce.
Tal Hisham Nazer, CEO, BUPA Arabia, told AMEinfo: “There has been a lot of reforms in KSA in the past few years and there needs to be a lot more. For example, you would not have seen women working in supermarkets or retail stores in KSA couple of years ago and I believe laws have been changed and created to allow that and it has created more than half a billion jobs for females.
“We need to focus on the initiatives or activities that need to be employed, as well as the incentives that need to be created, for the private sector to hire more Saudi women. So I think we are on the right track, but a lot more has to happen in relation to that.”
Nazer added: “With the changing times and where both partners in a household need to earn incomes and find good jobs, we need to make sure that the work environment is suitable for women as well.”
In a statement on their website, Human Rights Commission President Bandar bin Mohammed Al-Aiban said he welcomed the gesture saying that it reflects King Salman’s care of his people and embodies his concern to simplify procedures for women who constitute half of Saudi society and who are a major partner in the development of the society.
According to the Human Rights Commission, the Supreme Court has demanded concerned agencies to review procedures in force. It also demanded to list all procedures that require the approval of the woman’s guardian to complete a service and to provide an explanation of their statutory basis for the service within three months of the order’s issuance date.
The new order is not clear yet and does not state under what circumstances a woman should or should not obtain the consent of her guardian for services provided to her, said Saudi writer and women rights advocate Abdullah Al-Alami.
Al-Alami told Arab News that he believes the law was introduced “to satisfy the Human Rights Commission, in relation to the international conventions to which the Kingdom has acceded.”
UN Commission on the Status of Women
On April 19, United Nations (UN) member states elected Saudi Arabia to serve on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, which is dedicated to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.