First, here are some official figures: the percentage of Saudi female graduates in comparison to Saudi men is 58%. The population figures suggest that women are ahead by 51%; however, female participation in the labor market does not exceed 5%. Abdulaziz Hazaa, the head of the National Employment Project in Mecca has previously told Asharq Al Awsat that women all over the kingdom hold no more than 44 thousand jobs. Meanwhile, in a report by an international human rights organization, it was noted that despite women constituting 14.6% of the work force in Saudi Arabia, unemployment amongst women has reached approximately 15.8%.
Those aforementioned figures represent a reality before analyzing any decisions made by the Labor Minister, Dr Ghazi Al Qusaibi that supported state legislation to increase the employment of women in jobs that are appropriate for their nature.
In Saudi Arabia, the majority of the population is made up of middle class and average income families. The strength of these families lies in the female willingness to join the workforce, which is full of girls looking for an additional income to improve their families’ standards of living. This fact is what explains the high turnout of women to work in retail outlets that aim at female consumers after the Ministry of Labor compelled shop owners to employ women.
What is sad is that many withdrew their support for this decision. Some businessmen went as far as closing their shops to escape employing women of their own society and who are in need of income. Furthermore, internet forums (that Al Qusaibi referred to as bats of darkness) accused the Minister of Labor of westernizing the Saudi woman simply because he sought to follow a policy that would offer better standards of living for Saudi men and women alike.
Twenty-two year-old Nadine Qanadili, who has a diploma in management said, “Personally, work is not just an improvement of living standards but also a legitimate aspiration. I have the right to seek such achievements. Everybody needs to work, even those who have millions. The issue does not just concern money but also to show that you can depend on yourself and live a decent life.”
In this article, I do not seek to defend the Saudi Minister of labor and his brave decrees as he can do a better job at defending himself. However, I seek to defend the dreams of Nadine and many other young women. My defense of their dreams is a defense of the legitimate human aspiration of both men and women. It is a call to set fear aside and integrate into the modern world. It is a call to increase the care given to Saudi woman not just concerning employment but also regarding education by opening new departments in universities suitable for the upcoming economic stage, in fields for which men alone would not be able to meet the needs. For example, the fields of technology and engineering where Saudi men fulfill only 4% and 7% respectively of the local markets’ needs whilst there are no departments for them in universities for women.
I conclude with the following information: at the beginning of last year, over 35, 000 young Saudi women competed for less than 850 jobs that were announced by the Ministry of Civil Service in the education sector. Enough said.