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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Women's Rights, Saudi Arabia: Placing more emphasis on working women

It seems that Saudi Arabia is moving towards change, highlighting women in this significant development. My first thought upon reading about this was: the economy.. it must the desire to develop the economy and sees this as an essential step in that direction. Women are largely an untapped resource. 

According to Bloomberg, King Abdullah is pushing to raise women's employment in a country where only 15% of the labor force is female. More working women would give Saudi and international companies higher-skilled employees, since almost 60% of Saudi university students are women, and help Saudi Arabia diversify from energy by building technical skills.

"By including more women in the labor force, you increase productivity" and thus add jobs to the economy, said John Sfakianakis, chief economist at Riyadh-based Banque Saudi Fransi. "By employing them, the government will get a return on its investment in education."

Moreover Abdullah is promoting women's rights as part of a broader drive to rein in the influence of the clerical establishment, which controls the educational and legal system in a country where unemployment for those between ages 15 and 24 is 25%. The king is establishing a new commercial courts outside the existing judiciary, which follows Islamic Sharia law, and promoting science and technology under a five-year unveiled in 2005 to enhance job skills. 

That said, Bandar bin Mohammed al-Aiban, president of the government-run Saudi Human Rights Commission, states that the kingdom's form of Islam means progress will be slow. It forbids mixing among unrelated people of opposite sexes, requires women to get a male relative's permission to work and prohibits women from driving a car.

I have to say that I appreciated Mr. al-Aiban's comment: "It's piecemeal, one step at a time. We're an Islamic society that has its own traditions, which most families, not the government, would adhere to." I definitely agree. One step at a time. And, well, progress is progress even if it is slow to come. I see this as smart economics where women's rights benefit.


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