At present, Saudi Arabia lags other GCC countries in terms of female workforce participation.
But the balance is set to shift as women take advantage of new opportunities generated by greater mobility and flexibility in their lifestyles.
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“Often you find a disconnect between job opportunities and access with women sometimes unable to compete for roles due to the challenges of getting to work and back. Greater mobility will balance market access between the genders,” said Hala Kudwah financial services consulting leader at PwC in Saudi Arabia.
The move will tap into the wealth of female talent waiting in the wings, empowering educated women to join the labour force and contribute to the growth of the economy.
“Overnight this has created a huge segment of mobile women which will certainly accelerate economic reform in Saudi and attract more business investment,” Kudwah said.
She estimated that between two to three million women would be empowered to join the workforce, contributing to a major change in consumption patterns across the Kingdom as money previously allocated to paying for drivers or taxis is channelled towards retail, entertainment and other fields being targeted for growth in the Vision 2030.
“The economic impact will over time be sizable given that it will address mobility issues for more than half of the country's population. It will allow women to be more dynamically engaged,” said John Sfakianakis, director of economic research at the Gulf Research Center in Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia aims to increase the level of women’s participation in the workforce from 22 per cent to 30 per cent, according to Vision 2030.
The number of national women joining the workforce has seen a dramatic increase, official data shows. Based on figures from the Ministry of Labour and Social Development in March, the number of Saudi women working in the private sector has increased by 130 per cent in the last four years.
Ian Giulianotti, director at Dubai-headquartered firm Nadia Recruitment said he expects Saudi Arabia to become a more attractive place to work, for both men and women.
“This decree means it will now be a lot easier for the wives of expat workers to live in Saudi as they will be more mobile. Expat living will be easier,” he said.
Maha Ghalib, a 36-year-old corporate marketing manager from Jeddah, said women have been waiting “years” for the new driving law and she anticipates that the effect on the national economy and the mobility of female workers will be considerable.
“We never thought we’d see this in our lifetime,” she said. “It is an economic decision. It will open up the economy and it will make it easier for families where both the husband and wife work — the husband will no longer need to drop his wife off first.”
By Olivia Cuthbert; Alicia Buller
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