The international day for women was just celebrated yesterday.
But there isn’t much to cheer on the side of employment for the female sex in the Middle East, as their male counterparts have a near hegemony over jobs and pay scales.
Over many years, Saudi was a big contributor to this fact, as the kingdom’s women were mostly restrained to domestic duty.
Yesterday, Saudi women were celebrating women’s day by jogging in Jeddah, part of a sweeping movement that is changing all of this, but is it enough?
Underpaid and under employed
According to a recent Reuters report, unemployment among women in the Middle East is twice that of men, quoting the United Nations’s (UN) own assessment Wednesday which pointed to low wages, lack of skills and a belief among some that a woman’s place is in the home.
“About 16% of women in Arab states are unemployed, compared to a global average of 6%, the U.N.’s International Labor Organization (ILO) said.
“The incentive for women to work in the Middle East is not there,” said Emanuela Pozzan, a gender specialist with the ILO, pointing to poor maternity provisions and costly childcare.
“The jobs are not attractive because the salaries are not attractive,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Getting more women into work globally was essential to achieve a global goal of gender equality by 2030, the ILO said.
Middle Eastern countries are among the worst in the world for unequal pay between men and women, according to the World Economic Forum.
The five lowest ranking countries for women’s economic participation and opportunity are Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran, with a gap of at least 65%, it said.
Saudi is changing rapidly
Intelligence site Stratfor said Saudi Arabia has taken key steps toward building a more entrepreneur-friendly women-inclusive economy.
“On Feb. 18, Riyadh’s Cabinet approved the country’s first-ever bankruptcy law, and the government later declared that it would soon allow women entrepreneurs to start businesses without male guardianships,” it said.
“The announcement about female Saudi entrepreneurs marks another step toward encouraging economic independence for women and will help Saudi society shift away from the patron-dependent model that has long slowed women’s advancement.”
Straatfor said female unemployment in the country is nearly double that of men.
It was recently announced that 12 women have begun training as air traffic controllers in Saudi Arabia, becoming the first women in the country to be employed in that field, the Saudi Gazette reported March 6.
The chief executive officer of the state-owned Saudi Air Navigation Services, Ryyan Tarabzoni, said prioritizing women’s employment was being done to pursue the goals of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 plan
Saudi Women: Itching to work
Research commissioned by Uber has found that 31% of Saudi women surveyed are interested in driving as an earnings opportunity.
The research, in collaboration with Ipsos, also discovered that 93% of Saudi females were positive about the recent lifting of the driving ban, mostly because it will allow them more flexibility to work.
Saudi Gazette said that Uber today announced ‘Masaruky’ (“your path” in Arabic) — a two-year initiative that aims to increase women’s participation in the workforce through access to affordable transportation, in addition to increasing women’s access to flexible, part time economic opportunities through the Uber technology.
“The campaign will kick off with an initial $270,000 pledge to make driving schools accessible to more women who are interested in learning how to drive but may not have the resources to do so,” said the Saudi Gazette.
In addition to several retail and service sector opportunities opening around the Kingdom, Saudi females are now allowed to join the army.
The daily said there are currently 1.3 million women in the Saudi workplace, 22% of the total workforce, a figure that the Kingdom’s government expects to increase to 30% by 2030.
Support for women employment
Jones Lang Lassale (JLL), a leading global real estate investment and advisory firm, said its regional goals in 2018 include at least 35% women in the workforce and at least 20% of Associate Directors and above to be women.
Women and girls’ empowerment is a major focus of the UAE National Strategy to be achieved by 2021. It is estimated that women make up 66% of UAE public sector workers, with approximately 30% in leadership roles. It is also projected that women comprise 75% of the workforce in education and healthcare in the UAE.
Right Health, the UAE’s largest and fastest-growing value healthcare organization is aiming to fill gaps in healthcare services for working women, and is actively targeting several clinics in ‘women only’ labor camps within the UAE.