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Saudi Women Workers Seeking Self-Respect - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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File photo of Saudi women attending a career fair. (AAA)

File photo of Saudi women attending a career fair. (AAA)

Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat—At a time when many believe that the major motivation for Saudi women joining the labor force is economic, a new study suggests that more than half of women also seek jobs to improve their social standing or fight boredom.

These figures were announced in “Saudi Working Women: Between Social Responsibility and the State’s Responsibility Towards Them” published by Dar Al-Kalima. The study, carried out by Dr. Hekmat Al-Arabi, a former professor of sociology at King Saud University in Riyadh, was announced at the Riyadh Book Fair.

The study revealed a diverse number of motivations for Saudi women seeking employment. Sixty-four percent of women asked claimed they worked for what they described as “self-realization”, while almost 63 percent said this was in order to put food on the table. However, 32 percent of Saudi working women said they worked in order to improve their social position, while 22 perfect said they did it to fill spare time, and 11 percent said they worked as an expression of freedom.

Almost 95 percent of Saudi working women also acknowledged that there are social issues motivating them to work. The study revealed that 71 percent of working women cited a desire to participate in developing society, 43 percent said they wanted to change social attitudes, 34 percent to demonstrate women’s importance to society, and just 7 percent to contribute to the family’s income.

In addition to this, this study revealed that just over half of Saudi working women (52 percent) said they have a strong desire to see laws introduced granting women up to five years of maternity leave to bring up a child after birth. In addition to this, 70 percent of working women called for more childcare help, 64 percent called for work hours to be reduced, and 58 percent asserted the importance of living close to the workplace.

53 percent of those surveyed called for specific travel arrangements to be made for women, while 52 percent called for female employees to be allowed to retire on full pension after 25 years’ service. Finally, 48 percent of Saudi women workers cited the importance of a woman’s job being held for her during the 5-year maternity leave.

In addition to this, the study recommended the establishment of nurseries to accommodate the children of working mothers, specifically children under the age of 6. The report called for any organization or institution that employs more than 20 women to establish a nursery staffed by professional childcare workers.

Dr. Al-Arabi commented on this saying “the workplace, mothers, and the state can contribute to the cost of such nurseries.”

The study also looked at the background of Saudi working women, revealing that 65.8 percent have university educations including 55 percent with undergraduate degrees, 8.5 percent with master’s degrees, and 2.3 percent with PhDs. In addition to this, just 2 percent of all Saudi working women are mothers.

As for their monthly salary, the study revealed that 33 percent earn between SAR 6,000 and 9,000, 30 percent between SAR 3,000 and 6,000, and 18 percent SAR 9,000 and 12,000. The remaining 19 percent earn less than SAR 3,000 per month.

The study also looked at Saudi working women’s husbands, revealing that 16 percent—the majority—are government employees, 5 percent are teachers, 3.4 work in human resources, and 3.4 percent are businessmen.

This study confirmed that women have secured a strong place in society, achieving prominent leadership positions in their own careers as well as publicly. However it also acknowledged that this had a negative impact on the Saudi family unit and traditional social roles, with Dr. Al-Arabi emphasizing the importance of balance.

However, the report also noted that women were only a small part of the workforce overall, and that the number of female employees and jobseekers is also a small part of the overall female population.

Last year, the director of the women’s department at the Saudi Labor Ministry, Raqqiya Al-Abdullah, revealed that of 5.9 million Saudi women of working age, only 12 percent of them were active in the labor market. She revealed that of this 706,000 women, only 505,000 are in employment, while 200,000 are looking for work.