Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: In search of jobs for Saudi women | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Saudi women fill out applications during a government sponsored job fair in Riyadh.[credit: Stringer/Reuters]

Jobs are the problem. But jobs are also the solution to the problem.

However, despite our knowledge in this case of both the malady and the cure, there remains a distinct lack of practical solutions available to target the problem—one now quickly threatening to spiral out of control.

For the problem persists even though more universities have opened, more students have enrolled, more support has been provided for companies to recruit Saudi citizens, and more restraints have been imposed on foreign nationals in the Kingdom and the rest of Gulf, countries which currently possess a surplus of wealth—though perhaps not for long.

Many things have been said by politicians regarding this subject, but most of them fall within the boundaries of propaganda or wishful thinking. No one can believe the Saudi Minister of Employment, for example, who was quoted as saying that one quarter of all Saudi citizens had replaced the illegal workers who were deported during the past six months. Hiring 250,000 people to replace 70,000? That just doesn’t add up. Furthermore, most of the deported laborers performed simple tasks like selling tissue paper on the streets or working in restaurants, grocery stores and construction sites. This is hardly a case of genuine job creation.

When officials resort to exaggerating results or to making false future promises, that’s when you realize they don’t really have any solutions up their sleeves. Their only aim here is to generate publicity for themselves and their institutions.

This certainly applies to what is currently being claimed about the thousands of women who have recently entered the labor market in Saudi Arabia.

This feat is not possible for very clear reasons: Women are prohibited from performing most jobs, and universities are prohibited from preparing them to perform those jobs.

Therefore, the problem is structural and deeply embedded within our society and education system, and reflected in governmental regulations and the lack of accountability of high-ranking state officials who fail to implement their promises.

There is a section of society that wants the government to fail and continuously obstructs all efforts towards change. This category knows very well that unemployment and low per capita incomes are both the most telling indications of government failure and the easiest ways of inciting opposition toward that government in the future.

The employment of women is no longer a luxury in Saudi Arabia; it is a necessity. It is the only way to supplement and boost household incomes.

Empty promises and enacting ineffective legislation simply will not do anymore; unemployment is rapidly on the rise.

The government should instead consult specialist institutions to study the labor market and to recruit and educate people. It can also adopt braver, bolder educational and employment policies—even if some people voice strong objections to these.

Solutions must be more substantive than just creating a few jobs for women to work as shop sellers, cashiers or cooks. Such jobs will help a few thousand women, but what about the more than one million women still seeking employment?

This is the only way to halt the seemingly steady march towards a very worrying future—one rife with widespread unemployment.