Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat- Research carried out by two female Saudis has concluded that Saudi women are now ready to broaden the fields in which they are employed. The research has shown that women have shown more enthusiasm in using their skills and that men would be accepting of women as work colleagues and would recognize her rights as a superior if her qualifications indicated so.
The new Saudi employment system that was announced at the end of September has, for the first time, permitted that women work in all fields that are compatible for them. According to a government report, women constitute less than 14% of the Saudi workforce, as they have been restricted, until recently, to the fields of education and healthcare. This has led to their exclusion from important productive activities such as information technology, trade, communication and banking.
Asharq al-Awsat interviewed Dr Wafaa” Al-Rashidi, a female Saudi development consultant who holds a PhD in international relations and diplomacy, about the female perspective on future career opportunities and their relationship with society.
The interview goes as follows:
Q) How would you analyze the current condition of female labor?
A) The present condition can hardly be analyzed within this short interview. There are several various, economic, social and religious pressures upon women. From my point of view, what distinguishes the Saudi women of today from the Saudi women of the past is that Saudi women have become more persistent in removing the restraints represented by social heritage, and to state her role in the national economy. Some women travel for miles everyday to work, while others would spend half their salary on transport for work. This is especially the case for women who are divorced or whose families have suffered from the rise in unemployment leaving the women to bring in the main source of income. I believe that Saudi female workers in the field of healthcare, education, and banking have been successful. However, in other fields, it has not been as successful, while other sectors have been prohibited for women until recently.
Q) Are the laws sufficient in protecting women from discrimination at work?
A) The Kingdom has signed the Women Anti Discrimination Convention (WADC) despite some reservations. Generally, the Kingdom is part of this agreement. More importantly, the Sharia (Islamic) law on which Saudi law is based is the first and last guarantor of the dignity of women. However, similar to judicial laws (in terms of child custody and stipend) and trade laws, the laws that protect women at work, under traditional and religious pretenses have demeaned women.
Q) Do you think that both Saudi men and women are ready to accept female participation in the workplace?
A) Yes. Societies always reflect the policies of a government; therefore, we are ready for work. Those who want or do not want their wives and daughters to work then let them be, however, he cannot refuse other women employment. The state, for many years, has already spent a large proportion of its budget on educating women, yet no more than 10% of the workforce are women, and 95% of this number work in the education sector. It is impossible for this to continue.
Q) Have there been changes?
A) Yes there have been inevitable changes especially considering that the country will join the WTO at the end of the year. The employment system will have to change further after thirty years of remaining the same. The recent issuance of the new employment code has demonstrated the healthy changes that have taken place. As we will begin to compete with the world and as our markets will open internationally, more changes are bound to take place.
Q) How do women suffer at work?
A) From my own practical experience, I could say that I have dealt with many different kinds of people. However, I have noticed that the attitude of men has changed somewhat. Generally, if women are professional in their work and take on their responsibilities with a sound rationale, then men will have no alternative but to respect women.
Q) What have been forms of discrimination in the workplace?
A) Suffering continues because of certain obstacles of which the resolution lies in the hands of a man. Some committees for women, unfortunately, are merely marginal or complementary. There are many ambiguities concerning a woman”s capacities and skills as some women will accept to be sidelined. Some men are also keen to keep women marginalized so that the male shortcomings would not be disclosed. Such cases reflect an inaccurate picture to other men concerning the real strength of knowledge of the new female generation.
Q) Do you regard cases of harassment, marginalization, and exclusion as individual and infrequent cases, or rather a feature of the society”s attitude of male chauvinism?
A) This question is best answered by women who go into the public sphere. Yet at the same time, a look or a single word maybe considered harassment as what may follow could range from blackmail or even in rare cases, rape. What is happening with the Bluetooth messaging service now is merely a reflection of what women have to endure; a harassment of different levels. Conclusively, this is a culture and a negative heritage that should be dispensed of.
Q) Will Saudi men accept a woman as his superior in the workplace?
A) Yes, because the male/female division is replaced by rationality when skill and capacity is taken into consideration. When women are more qualified for a certain job, Saudi men are the most supportive towards her.