Saudi women control a large portion of the country’s wealth and are sitting pretty on pure cash alone totalling a staggering $11.9 billion. However, their true maximum potential lies untapped owing to rigid religious, social and political constraints over the years.
Saudi women could become a major growth driver for the country’s diversification policy with the considerable wealth lying idle with them being channelled into the country’s money supply, the Cayman Islands-based asset management firm Al Masah Capital said in its latest report: ‘The Saudi Woman – A catalyst for change’ which was released yesterday.
“Increasing the contribution of women in key economic sectors can speed up economic diversification. Effective channelling of the huge funds held by Saudi women that currently yield negligible returns into enterprises or investment activities can earn profitable returns as well as boost the money supply,” said Shailesh Dash, Founder of Al Masah Capital.
Saudi women do not stand alone. Women in the Middle East controlled 22 per cent or $0.7 trillion of the region’s total assets under management (AUM) in 2009. Consequently, the region ranked fifth globally in terms of AUM controlled by women.
“Women in Saudi Arabia account for a potential pool of human and financial capital with the power and ability to bring about significant social and economic change. But, this can only be done within the right parameters,” he pointed out.
He said the change ought to be evolutionary. “This will not be effective and long lasting if it is done outside the current norms and social etiquettes of Saudi Arabia. For this change to be effective, it needs to grow and develop organically within the boundaries of what is acceptable and understandable to the Saudi society.”
“The true potential lies in this development happening in parallel with positive growth in the mindset of the society. Only then will we see the real impact of the Saudi woman,” affirmed Dash.
Women in Saudi Arabia, including expatriates, constituted 45 per cent of the country’s population and boasted of a literacy rate of 79 per cent. Yet, only 65 per cent of them were employed, revealing the huge potential for women employment. Further, 78.3 per cent of unemployed women were university graduates.
Saudi Arabia also had the lowest national female labour participation rate, which was put at 20.1 per cent in 2009 compared to neighbouring countries like Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
Towards that end, establishing a just workplace for both men and women can generate significant economic value. Greater educational support for women to take up jobs in IT and communications can increase the government’s return on investments in the country’s education system.
While the government was the largest employer of women in the country, their exposure to the private sector was minimal accounting for a mere 0.8 per cent of total private sector employees.
Women resources can help aid Saudi Arabia in its diversification efforts from oil wealth, fostering employment opportunities on one hand and a business-enabling environment for women entrepreneurship on the other. This is the need of the hour given their significant human capital and financial muscle, Dash added, and public and private sector policy should be targeted towards it.