The global image of Saudi Arabia as a place where women are second class citizens is in flux.
With the country’s 2030 Vision being implemented across a wide range of elements of life in Saudi, the empowerment of women is one clear goal being worked towards. These are not vague platitudes, but clear targets covering business, social and legal domains.
From raising women’s labour-force participation from 22% to 30%, equalizing their rights to choose where they live, and criminalizing gender discrimination, the Vision 2030 is laying the foundations for women to achieve and contribute alongside men in the workplace.
The Vision has set a target to create 1 million jobs for women and is taking a multi-pronged approach to making this happen. For example, pregnant women can no longer be fired for being pregnant, retirement ages are equal for men and women, and new positions have been created to encourage women into the public sector.
The results of these changes can already be seen, as women run with their new-found freedom.
A fifth of entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia are now women, and women entered the construction and manufacturing industries in their thousands in 2020 when the laws preventing them from doing so were abolished.
Saudi’s 2030 Vision was launched in 2016, but even before this point change was in the air, setting the tone for this key part of the program.
In 2006 women were able to receive their ID cards without the approval of a guardian, and in 2009 the first Saudi female athletes took their places at the Olympic Games and first female minister took her place in Government, followed by women’s right to vote and to stand in municipal elections in 2015.
Since the launch of the Vision, women have been allowed into sports stadiums, permitted to get a driving license without a guardians’ permission, and to travel without a male guardian once they reach the age of 21.
Women have the choice to serve in the military if they wish and, in a further meaningful display of intent, 13 women have also been appointed to the Kingdom’s Human Rights Council where they make up half of the board’s members.