Saudi education minister opens two digital colleges for women

18/09/20

Education minister Hamad Al-Sheikh. (SPA)

RIYADH: Hamad Al-Sheikh inaugurated the first two digital colleges for women in Riyadh and Jeddah on Wednesday.
The ceremony was held in the presence of the governor of the Technical and Vocational Training Corporation (TVTC), Ahmed Al-Fuhaid.
The colleges will provide specialized training programs for about 4,000 trainees in several fields. Programs on offer include network systems management, media technology, software, the Internet of things, smart cities, robotics technology, artificial intelligence and machine learning.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia looks to close gender pay gap

Time: 17 September 2020

It is the latest move to create an encouraging and safe work environment.(AN Photo)
  • Ministry: the employer is prohibited from distinguishing between their workers

JEDDAH: The Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development recently issued an order to ensure there is no gender-based discrimination in employees’ wages.
It is the latest move to create an encouraging and safe work environment, provide decent and sustainable job opportunities for all citizens and address the challenges facing workers and employers.
The ministry said that “the employer is prohibited from distinguishing between their workers, whether during the performance of work or when hiring or advertising it, such as sex, disability, age, or any other form of discrimination.”
At the Misk Global Forum 2019, the Saudi energy minister, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman, said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is providing all Saudis with equal opportunities.
“We know that our women now are enabled, they have an education program,” he said. “We have equal pay for both men and women.”
The move was widely welcomed by Saudis. Electrical engineer Mohammed Al-Ali told Arab News that it would encourage more women to join the workforce.
“This decision is a step forwards towards equality for women. It encourages more women to be part of the workforce and will turn our economy into a prosperous one,” said Al-Ali.
“Saudi Arabia, as part of its 2030 vision, is going through rapid changes towards a more inclusive society, where women and men work side by side with no discrimination.”
Saudi admin assistant Rozan Al-Nahari said that women work just as hard as men, and this move would bring financial relief to many. “We spend the same working hours at the office, complete the same tasks and many of us try to prove ourselves in any establishment,” she said.
“I’m very happy that all of the social reforms are so supportive of women.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi woman to run for sports club presidency

Time: 15 September 2020

Awatef Al-Sahoo (not in the picture) told Arab News that her nomination was inspired by her belief that the role of women is important in society. (AFP/File)
  • The move is a first for the sports scene in the Kingdom and in line with Vision 2030 objectives

JEDDAH, MAKKAH: From being a fan to co-chairing an all-male Saudi club, a love of football runs deep in Awatef Al-Sahoo, the first Saudi female to run for the presidency of a club.

The unexpected move is a first for the sports scene in the Kingdom. Al-Sahoo presented her candidacy for the presidency of Al-Qalaa FC in Al-Jouf, becoming the first Saudi woman to take the step.
She presented her candidacy papers for the presidency of the club’s board of directors last Thursday, amid competition with a list of names. Al-Sahoo wants to present a file, which focuses on establishing a women’s sports council to serve sports in Saudi Arabia, and she hopes to be accepted by the sporting community.
She told Arab News that her nomination was inspired by her belief that the role of women is important in society, especially for female athletes, as they create balance and integration, and can be examples of women reaching their full potential.
With her husband and family’s support for the nomination, her story began with her marriage to athlete Ahmed Al-Sahoo, who was a gateway to the world of sports for her. She said she was enthusiastic about becoming president of Al-Qalaa FC because of sports competitions.
“My home turned into a management center for the club and its affairs, with Al-Qalaa FC becoming a second home that is valued and supported with all their effort,” she said.
Al-Sahoo is unafraid of losing the elections in two weeks’ time, which shows her determination to fight, “by exercising my right to vote, establish a community sports channel capable of developing society in a cultural, social and civilized way, in accordance with the highest standards and modern technology that indicate success and excellence, is what I’m aiming for,” she said.

FASTFACTS

• Awatef Al-Sahoo presented her candidacy for the presidency of Al-Qalaa FC in Al-Jouf last week.

• She wants to establish a women’s sports council to serve sports in Saudi Arabia.

Last year, Kholoud Attar became one of the first women to join a football club. She is now head of Makkah’s Al-Wehda FC media center. She told Arab News that the Kingdom is ready to see what women have to offer in the field of sports.
“I always admire women who bypass gender issues and only focus on contributing their time to something new. I think it’s very brave and I’m sure she will do it and she’ll do a great job,” Attar said.
“I fully support her decision. If anything, working in the sports field and managing Al-Wehda FC, I realized that the Kingdom is ready for all the great work and opportunities women can give for this field.”
Al-Sahoo’s bold decision is by all means a great start for an integrated system, but also one that has gained the respect of women in the region.
Many people on social media have hailed her nomination as “brave and influential.”
Al-Sahoo said: “My success in the next elections is the success of all ambitious Saudi women who would like to show the world who they are, what they can give and who have fought in order to achieve these historical moments that will be positively registered in the march of Saudi women who have entered all domains courageously.”
Ahmed Al-Sahoo, her husband, whose presidency of Al-Qalaa FC recently ended, said her nomination is a wish she has been eagerly awaiting.
She is a leading figure who carries Al-Jouf citizens’ hopes and ambitions, and her loss in the elections will be a loss for all ambitious women from her generation, he added.
He said it was important to support and encourage women in their ambitions in the sports field and ensure their success.

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The diplomacy of normalization: Will Arabs succeed in overcoming their fear of recognizing others?

13/09/20

Good relations between states, termed diplomatic relations, requires the exchange of interests first and foremost, specifically human interest, which should be the focus of common interest. But the discussion about the normalization of relations often takes a turn that is contrary to the human spirit and the core of our existence as politics sometimes tends to dominate, thus creating barriers and conflicts in order to impose control over humans and sovereignty over lands. If politics can get rid of this obstacle — the need to dominate and exclude others — it becomes a noble practice in the beautiful, philosophical sense.

“Normalization” is one of the most widely used contemporary terms. It is principally a political term that has been overloaded and given religious dimensions that have nothing to do with it. And despite its simplicity, the term refers to making relations normal between two countries after discord or conflict. This includes the exchange of visits and discussing benefits and interests without any sensitivity, objection, aversion or contempt.

Normalization in the Arab world has been linked to the Palestinian cause, which has been dominated by some movements, especially religious ones that monopolized discussing it and gave it non-subjective dimensions. These dimensions were not consistent with the interest of any party to the issue — neither the Palestinians nor the Jews — and the evidence is that they did not succeed in resolving the issue. They deepened the conflict, and contributed to more tension and fighting, resulting in the killing of thousands of innocent people, more settlements and a tighter siege, when peace could have been achieved with minimal losses. Relations have been normal since the dawn of history, but extremist stances harmed the case.

Today, as a result of global and regional changes, some Arab countries have begun to reconsider many of their stances, including normalization with the Hebrew state, or what is known as Israel. The Palestinian Authority regained its power to make decisions after some political movements, which employ religion and exploit the rights of the Palestinians to achieve political and economic aims, held a monopoly on the Palestinian cause, bringing the people of Palestine nothing but more crises, wars and destruction.

That is why some Arab countries, the first being the UAE, announced normalizing relations with Israel, a historic decision that bears so much courage and realism.

This decision is no less important than receiving the Pope, the Year of Tolerance initiative and the big decisions that accompanied it. Normalization is the fruit of this approach that serves the stability of the Middle East and preserves the gains achieved by the Arabian Gulf states in the fields of economy, culture and urbanization, and in the areas of administration, modernity, enlightenment and openness. It also gives the Palestinians the right to life and continuity, a sense of security, stability and peace while living on their territory. Most importantly, the normalization decision puts an end to settlements and stops any Zionist aggression against the people of Palestine. In other words, this agreement is a major turning point that moves the Arab region from conflict to cooperation, from hatred to solidarity, and from wars to reconstruction, thus serving human causes in their spiritual dimension, far from any religious, sectarian, ethnic, or other forms of exclusion and discrimination which delay recovery and disrupt the modernization process in the Arab world.

Perhaps many Arab countries have been practicing normalization for decades without announcing it, except in rare cases in which they were able to have some courage and sovereignty in declaring their position. However, the rest of the countries, as a result of the domination of extremist religious movements, found it extremely difficult to announce the normalization of relations and, therefore, continued to suffer in silence. At the same time, the other side continued to exploit the situation for more settlement, occupation, killing and aggression in the absence of any peace agreement that would be the subject of consensus or be invoked by the developments on the ground, which impose a peaceful, rational, and diplomatic solution to the issue, without a war that may destroy everything.

A brave knight is one who achieves victory without war and without shedding a drop of blood. That is why the normalization decision can only be described as wise, rational and based on the values of humanity, coexistence, and tolerance. These universal values started to spread across the Arab region and became a solution imposed by reality and the future: A solution that ends the pain of the two peoples who would not be harmed by living in peace and harmony.

This normalization does not mean surrender, nor does it indicate surrendering or compromising the rights of the Palestinians.

Rather, it is a rational deal with a complex reality that only worsens day after day, causing Arabs to miss the opportunity for the advancement of civilization and improving the quality of relations, not only between neighboring countries, but also between Arabs themselves. Regional conflicts are increasing, and wars on borders consume a lot of effort. Moreover, the media machine, instead of building a civilized human society, is busy starting more fires and creating enmity between neighbors.

Then scholars and intellectuals ask: Why have Arabs fallen behind while others have advanced? The fact is that progress today can only take place in light of economic and cultural blocs that are at peace with themselves and their surroundings and can contain narrow disputes, manage crises, and ward off political conflicts that do not benefit the Arab peoples, but rather reap more aggression and hatred. This, of course, contradicts the tolerant religious values that insist on good morals, on top of which is tolerance, which is at the heart of every great human civilization.

When “love for all” becomes the title of diplomatic normalization, it becomes a powerful force for containing crises and turning enemies into friends.

God said: “The good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel (the evil) with one which is better (i.e. Allah ordered the faithful believers to be patient at the time of anger, and to excuse those who treat them badly), then verily! He, between whom and you there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a close friend” [41:34]. This is the meaning of normalization in its deep human significance, which gets its strength from the monotheistic religions and a sense of responsibility towards humanity. According to some of the philosophical theories that emerged after World War II, people are not enemies, but are brothers and sisters who meet each other with smiles and joy. There is no doubt that evoking these meanings can enhance the spread of the idea of tolerance or normalization in the noble political sense, as it is a golden key to bridging gaps between viewpoints and protecting human gains in the fields of rights, development, environment, education, communication and openness.

Islam has recognized that there is no compulsion in religion and insists on choosing peace, calling for reconciliation between adversaries and repelling evil with good deeds. Islam also recommends justice and charity and prohibits offending people, especially the followers of other religions despite their deviation from monotheism. This is because Earth embraces everyone, and choices of faith remain available and permissible provided that the unity, security and stability of society are preserved and human dignity is protected first and foremost, regardless of the differences between human beings.

Guidance is in the hand of the Creator, and the absolute truth is not possessed by man. God Almighty says to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): “Surely you cannot guide whom you love, but Allah guides whom He pleases, and He knows best the followers of the right way” [28:56]. This meaning corresponds to freedom as stated by the divine religions and witnessed in the lives of the prophets, the words of scholars and philosophers, and the legacy of the knowledgeable, all of whom created human civilizations. This includes respecting those who are different and not offending them, forcing them to do something they did not voluntarily choose, denying their existence or stripping them of the right to live. This is the very nature of normalization that should be achieved today in light of growing Arab awareness of the values of humanity and the renewal of their view of religion, identity and the future.

Fares Al-Ghanami is a Saudi writer and intellectual interested in political affairs. Twitter: @farescom200

This article was first published in Arab News

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OIC discusses ways to empower women in STEM education

11/09/20

JEDDAH: Plans to step up the provision of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education for women and girls were on Thursday discussed at a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
During a virtual workshop, members of the body’s general secretariat looked at ways of improving access to learning for women and girls in OIC countries. The OIC event was held in cooperation with the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), the Islamic World Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (ICESCO), and the Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation.

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Saudi singer gives voice to world’s musical diversity

11/09/20

Haneen Saleh, 24, has mastered singing in four languages — Arabic, English, Korean and Urdu. (Supplied)

“(I have a) serious commitment to improving my singing abilities by singing Korean songs,” she said. “Training myself with this genre has (sharpened) my abilities to master singing in other languages.”
“Finding a training opportunity with a professional instructor was and still is a challenge in Saudi Arabia, especially for singers like me — my style in singing is not very popular in the regional industry.”
Saleh has produced a couple of original songs while singing over the past four years. She has cooperated with various private sector organizations doing songs for commercials and national day specials.

Her fanbase is between 16 and 35 years of age and hails from across the Arab world.
In the future, Saleh said that she hopes to create cross-cultural songs that can incorporate cultural insights into her music and reach every human heart.
She can be followed on Instagram: @7anensaleh.

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Social worker helps women athletes find a league of their own

30/08/20

Photo/Supplied
  • Rejection and acceptance are a natural phenomenon, but the persistence of the Saudi woman is great, and the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 requires the participation of all segments of society in the labor market

MAKKAH: A new female voice advocating for the health and well-being of women in sport has joined a football club to guide and support players.

In a move aimed at ensuring that athletes use their experience of sport and work to meet their needs, Mada Bazaid, a newly appointed social worker at Saudi Arabia’s Al-Wehda Football Club, is part of the board of directors’ efforts to improve the club’s status during the next phase, and to attract elements that will bring development and progress to the organization.

As sports is often a hook to captivate the attention of the community, advocating for different social causes, a tool to promote health and more due to its diverse nature, it takes a village to create change. With the help of inter-professional collaboration from various members in the sports scene, social workers can now assist in the process.

Bazaid, who holds a masters in sociology, is the first woman to be appointed to one of the Saudi professional league clubs. She is expected to create mathematical psychological transformations in the coming days in her sports field, a decision that reflects the positive role women are playing in many sectors, including sports. This decision also shows the Kingdom’s support for the empowerment of Saudi women.

Speaking to Arab News about the impact of social service in sports, Bazaid said that it promoted the development of human societies and the expansion of human activities.

“One of the most important areas that needs the presence of a social worker is the field of sports, in order to achieve the psychological and social balance of players according to advanced professional methods,” Bazaid said.

As a Saudi woman, Bazaid highlighted the most prominent challenges and obstacles and the means to overcome them.

Saudi women have reached advanced stages in several areas

Mada Bazaid

“Saudi women have reached advanced stages in several areas. Rejection and acceptance are a natural phenomenon, but the persistence of the Saudi woman is great, and the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 requires the participation of all segments of society in the labor market, especially as we are talking about a vital society in which men and women need to participate in a way consistent with the aspirations of this society,” she said.

Asked about ways to create balance in the sports field between the sexes, Bazaid said that based on the vision of managing the development of age groups in Al-Wehda Club, “We aim to create a distinguished player in a safe environment. My role as a social worker for the age groups is to contribute within the framework of the objectives of social service (therapeutic — preventive — developmental).”

Saudi women’s participation in sport is not simply confined to areas such as the field, the benches or the administration.

With this new appointment, social workers are an emerging speciality, integrating social work practices into all aspects of athletics for the well-being of individuals and the community. This brings attention to the needs and challenges of athletes, supports athletes’ strengths and advocates for case coordination and counseling when needed.

This article was first published in Arab News

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‘Divorce coach’ podcast aims to end stigma of marriage breakup in Saudi Arabia

Time: 27 August, 2020

Coach Ghazal Hashim, center. (Supplied)
  • With the Kingdom’s divorce rate on the rise, two Saudi women are working to replace shame with hope

JEDDAH: Divorce rates in the Kingdom began climbing as soon the lockdown ended and life started returning to normal, the latest report by the Saudi Justice Ministry shows.

In June, 4,079 divorce certificates were issued in Saudi Arabia — 30 times more than the 134 granted in April when authorities began implementing strict movement restrictions.

The sudden spike is extreme, but nevertheless mirrors a dramatic increase in divorce rates in the Kingdom in recent years.

Highlighting the issue, a Saudi social entrepreneur and divorce coach launched a project to help people overcome what she describes as the “shame and stigma” associated with marriage break-up.

Coach Ghazal Hashim started her “Turn the Page” podcast in 2017 with a friend, education specialist Basma Bushnak.

The podcast later inspired Hashim to set up a coaching business, the Nehayat Bedaya center (or “together for a better ending”), which specializes in divorce-related issues.

This voluntary initiative is still the only Arabic platform to address the social, legal, emotional, professional and family-related challenges of life after divorce.

The idea began when Hashim and Bushnak met to discuss the challenges both faced as single mothers.

Later they thought about offering help and support to others in their situation.

“We thought about co-writing a book, but after a lot of talking we decided to launch a podcast where we could hold discussions in a friendly manner,” Hashim told Arab News.

The first episode was aired in 2017 with Mstdfr Network. The podcast, now in its fourth season, currently appears on the Mohtwize Network.

The podcast has matured during the years. The first season focused on women, but when the two hosts realized that divorced men also lack a voice, they began including male guests in the discussion.

Hashim said that they do not “encourage people to get a divorce, but dedicate their efforts to help both divorced men and women to overcome the social shame and begin their new journey in life with confidence.”

Separation should not be viewed as failure, she said.

“Divorce can be a catalyst for a positive change in life when married life becomes impossible,” she added.

“We aim to break the stigma related to divorce. Divorce is seen as as a bad thing that shouldn’t be talked about, while in fact it is an issue that exists at a high rate in our society — you can hardly find a family that doesn’t have a single divorce case among its members.”

In the podcast’s third season, they expanded the discussion to include challenges and risks that can threaten the family’s unity and lead to divorce if not properly dealt with, such as infidelity and addiction.

“We have reached the fourth season, published around 50 episodes, and the total number of listeners on the SoundCloud platform alone has reached over 200,000,” said Hashim.

The podcast’s website also allows listeners to share their experiences of separation, single parenting and coping strategies.

They also hold a monthly support group meeting with experts, gathering people who have been divorced for two years, with each session addressing a new topic.

Hashim’s Nehayat Bedaya center aims to provide a road map for those going through divorce.

“My contact with divorced people, and my reading and meetings with experts as I was preparing the podcast’s episodes, led me to become a certified divorce coach in 2019. Now I’m doing a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy,” she said.

Hashim has gathered a team of young clinical psychologists to support newly divorced people on what she said can be “a very lonely journey for some.”

The center, located in Jeddah, offers divorce coaching services and closed support group sessions. Currently, it is aimed at divorced women in their first year of separation, but later plans to include divorced men as well as children of separated couples.

“Divorce coaching is a flexible, goal-oriented process designed to support, motivate and help people going through divorce make the best decisions for their future,” Hashim said.

“Coaching is different than therapy, but they do overlap. A therapist is an expert whose main focus is to uncover and recover, but a coach is a partner who focuses on discovering. Coaching is future-focused. Both are professionals with the main focus on helping their clients,” she said.

“They can also work together as a lot of therapists sometimes apply coaching skills. A coach never claims to know better, and we always refer to therapists if we discover a client is severely abused or could suffer from mental health issues, for example,” she added.

People sometimes choose a coach instead of a counselor because they find it more affordable. But choosing the wrong person to ask for help can have a negative impact on the client, she warned.

Hashim hopes to include legal and consultancy services in the center’s offerings along with training and specialist workshops as part of a national project to make society’s view of divorce more tolerant and supportive.

She said the media has played an important role in reinforcing the social stigma associated with divorce, which is generally linked with failure, pain and child delinquency.

“Divorce itself is not the problem, it is how we deal with it. Unfortunately, we lack positive images and examples of successful or healthy divorce,” she said.

“If divorce had been this bad, our religion wouldn’t have legalized it, and (wouldn’t have) dedicated a whole surah (chapter) in the Qur’an to divorce.”

She said that while divorce is a challenge for both sexes, divorced men are rarely encouraged to acknowledge their feelings or learn from their experiences, so tend to go through several marriages and fail each time.

In most Arab societies, divorce is discussed from an exclusively religious point of view, resulting in a lack of specialized family and marriage-related support services and an awareness of their importance, Hashim said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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First Saudi cycling championship crowns four female winners

Time: 25 August, 2020

  • The rider started gym training with a personal coach 7 years ago

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s first female cycling championship has crowned the event’s four fastest riders.
Ten cyclists from throughout the Kingdom took part in the time-challenge competition staged on Sunday in Al-Mahalla district of Abha, under the supervision of the Saudi Cycling Federation.
Ahlam Nasser Al-Zaid was quickest to complete the 13-km course with a time of 22 minutes and 18 seconds. Anoud Khamis Al-Majed came second covering the distance in 25 minutes and 39 seconds, with Alaa Al-Zahrani taking third place in 26 minutes and 57 seconds, and Noura Al-Sheikh racing to fourth in 27 minutes and 4 seconds.
The federation’s program was resumed following the approval of health protocols related to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak issued by health authorities in cooperation with the Ministry of Sport.
Abdullah Al-Mizyad, director of operations and technical adviser at the Saudi Cycling Federation, told Arab News: “We have resumed our championships including the fifth and sixth championships for youth and adults, which were held in Al-Bahah for the first time, followed by the Kingdom’s champion event for youth, adults, and women in Abha. This return was the conclusion of the Saudi cycling championships for the Kingdom’s champion.
“The participation of youth and adults and the category of males and females was open for all to register, which was special in terms of the enthusiasm of the women that took part.”
Al-Zahrani said: “There were about seven female contestants in the female category who were from my team.”
The rider started gym training with a personal coach 7 years ago. In 2018, she met with the captain of the Rawasi team, Sherine Abu Al-Hasan, who introduced her to hiking. “We have hiked the Sabha and Souda mountains in Saudi Arabia and Shams in Oman.
“In 2019, I wanted to practice a new type of sport since I love discovering new things. I have friends who love riding bicycles as a hobby, and they encouraged me to do the same.
“I then met someone in 2020 who introduced me to the captain of cycling time, and I started practicing with them professionally. We started a month ago before the championship and we completed it (the practice) successfully,” Al-Zahrani added.
She said that the Saudi Cycling Federation had given female riders the chance to achieve their dreams and goals in the sport.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi youth’s new-found focus on independence

Time: 19 August, 2020

Saudi people watch the concert for composer Yanni during the concert at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 3, 2017. Picture taken December 3, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser – RC1A21D37EE0

The Saudi General Authority of Statistics (GASTAT) last week released a special report to mark International Youth Day, which is celebrated annually on Aug. 12. The report, “Saudi Youth in Numbers,” offered some interesting insights into the status, lifestyle and thinking of the 15 to 34 age group in Saudi Arabia, especially concerning employment and marriage.

GASTAT confirmed in its statistical report that this age group makes up 36.7 percent of the total population of Saudi Arabia, while children under 15 represent 30.3 percent, which means that the majority of the population is young. The divide between males and females in the 15 to 34 age group is very narrow, with males making up 51 percent and females 49 percent.

The data regarding marriage in this age group was an eye-opener and triggered widespread discussions on the changes in mindset and society. The percentage of young males and females who had never been married was 66.23 percent, those who were married made up 32.45 percent, divorced 1.27 percent and widowed 0.05 percent. This means the age of first marriage is rising, which has implications regarding fertility rates and population growth, and consequently economic and social aspects a few decades down the road.

The report points out that the fertility rate in Saudi Arabia is in line with the global trend, where Saudi females within the 30 to 34 age group registered the highest fertility rate with 124.4 births per 1,000 women in 2018. The Kingdom is on the lower side of the adolescent fertility rate (15 to 19 years) compared to other G20 countries at seven births per 1,000 women, higher only than Italy, France, Japan and South Korea.

In the 15 to 24 age group, the percentage of never-married males was 50.4 and females 43.1, which means that more and more Saudi youths are opting — most likely with the encouragement of their parents — to marry after completing their university education. The fact that the report indicates that Saudi youths’ (15 to 34 years) illiteracy rate decreased noticeably from 2007 to 2017, with a majority of decreases attributable to females becoming more literate (the female illiteracy rate dropped from 5.9 percent in 2007 to 0.6 percent in 2017), supports this argument.

However, there was still a small number of males (1 percent) and females (6.8 percent) who were married in the 15 to 24 age group, although the report does not indicate the percentage of those who were under 18, nor does it indicate the education or social level of this married group. Marriage under the age of 18 was prohibited last year, when the Ministry of Justice instructed official registrars not to register any marriage if a prospective spouse was below 18 and to instead report the case to the relevant court, which would decide if there was any risk to the person involved. Therefore, even though this law was introduced only last year, the small percentage of those married in the 15 to 24 age group indicates that early marriage was already declining.

On the other hand, in the 25 to 34 age group, 25.2 percent of males and 13.4 percent of females had never been married, but again the report does not indicate whether the majority of them are above or under 30 years of age or their education and social level. Meanwhile, those who were married in the 25 to 34 age group were 23.2 percent male and 34.4 percent female, which means that far less than half of our population that is in an age group that is expected to be married and with children are not.

We might also assume that, considering the much higher percentage of married females aged 25 to 34 compared to males, many females in this age group are marrying older males. This argument could be supported by the reasons given by youths for delaying marriage. Both genders cited the “high cost of living” as the main reason, followed by the “high cost of marriage,” which is related to youth employment and income.

According to the report, young Saudis aged 15 to 34 and working in the labor force represented 47 percent of the total Saudi workers in 2019 (69 percent male, 31 percent female). Only a fraction of the employed (3.8 percent males, 2.4 percent females) were in the age category 15 to 19 years, while the largest percentage were aged 30 to 34 (38.9 percent males, 43.6 percent females). It was interesting to note that there were more females employed than males in this age group, as well as in the 25 to 29 age group (35.5 percent males, 37.7 percent females).

The report points out that, over the past four years, the young Saudi (15 to 34 years) labor force participation rate has increased by 4.4 percentage points. This increase is due to the rise in the participation rate of females, which was 6.3 percent compared to 2 percent for males. This is credited to the Vision 2030 goal of creating more job opportunities for females. However, the participation rate of young Saudi females is still less than half the participation rate of young Saudi males.

During the past four years, the unemployment rate for Saudi youths (15 to 24 years) decreased by 11.5 percent. The decrease in female unemployment was even higher than males (13.9 and 11.6 percent, respectively). However, the unemployment rate for females is still more than three times that of males. Youths’ average monthly income is in favor of males, with the highest gap of almost 10 percent among middle income earners. Surprisingly, 63 percent of the Saudi youth find their monthly income sufficient to meet their financial obligations, which contradicts their most popular reason for delaying marriage. But the report did not indicate the distribution of youths earning low, middle and high income levels, especially as it found that the majority (55.3 percent) do not save from their monthly income.

The age of first marriage is rising, which has implications regarding fertility rates and population growth.

Maha Akeel

Another surprising result to note is that the largest difference between males and females in citing reasons for delaying marriage was the difficulty finding the right partner (1.9 percent males, 11.7 percent females). It would be interesting to know what the criteria are for Saudi males and females in finding the right partner and whether there is a mismatch between what each gender is looking for or expects.

Clearly there has been a shift in the Saudi youth’s priorities and lifestyle, with more focus on independence, whether financial or personal.

  • Maha Akeel is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. Twitter: @MahaAkeel1å

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