Working women could boost Saudi growth
Female unemployment slows the growth of Riyadh. Some analysts argue that the emancipation of women and their greater participation in the world of work would benefit the Saudi economy. More than one in two women are graduates but unemployed in 34% of cases.
In a country where the separation between the sexes is present at every level of public life, women themselves often view the idea of working with a man with suspicion. As Lebanese journalist Donna Abu Nasr writes on Bloomberg, "sometimes Saudi women do not even know how to approach a conversation with a member of the opposite sex, this also makes it difficult to carry out a simple job interview." Added to this the machismo of Saudi society and the strong power exercised by the religious police, the muttawa.According to David Butter, Middle East expert at the British based Chatham House, participation of women in the labor market advances hand in hand with their social emancipation. "The number of women in Saudi society - the analyst explains - is a great untapped resource. If the kingdom wants to rebalance its economy, one of the first things to do is integrate women into the world of work."
The data of the Central Department of Statistics testifies, however, to an encouraging trend. From 2009 to 2012, about 150 thousand women over 15 have appeared in the world of work and the first four months of 2013, female unemployment fell by one percentage point. From 35% to 34%. For Aluwaisheg Abdel Aziz, an economist at the Gulf Cooperation Council, these figures are "small" but "significant" and, although Saudi Arabia is the worst country in the world for female employment and remains the only state in the Arabian Peninsula that prohibits women from driving, a slight change is occurring.
King Abdullah, who ascended the throne in 2005, is implementing a slow but effective opening up for women, despite the religious elite being firmly opposed. From 2015, women will vote in municipal elections and two years ago, for the first time in history, a Saudi woman was elected deputy.