How Saudi women are becoming equal partners in progress

01/11/20

Saudi Rodina Maamoun, who employed 19 young women almost entirely replacing the men, sells jewellery at a retail store in Riyadh’s Hayat mall on February 19, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Saudi Industrial Development Fund (SIDF) has put gender-inclusive practices at the heart of Kingdom’s industrial development
Noor Shabib, SIDF vice president, says achieving gender parity and promoting women to senior posts are two major priorities
RIYADH: Women’s participation in the workforce and the wider Saudi economy and having more women in leadership positions is one of the key goals of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform strategy. That is why the Saudi Industrial Development Fund (SIDF) has made achieving gender parity and the promotion of women to senior positions a top priority, according to its vice president of strategic planning and business development, Noor Shabib.

SIDF has already reached some important milestones, boosting the proportion of women on its staff from zero to 17 percent in less than three years, making it one of the most successful in this regard among Saudi government entities.

“Not only that — we have women employed in every single department, distributing women leaders and young talent to all departments and in various ranks and positions, ranging from vice president for strategic planning and business development, director of enterprise risk management and a director of the SIDF academy,” Shabib told Arab News. “So, we have women at the highest levels, which is something we’re very proud of.”

Shabib hopes the SIDF’s partnership with the Alnahda Philanthropic Society for Women at this year’s edition of the Women 20 (W20), virtually hosted by Riyadh, has encouraged more Saudi institutions to follow suit.

“The SIDF is an advocate sponsor of W20 and the Alnahda society, joining forces to support the advocacy of women’s issues in Saudi Arabia to empower women, diversity and inclusion in the workplace,” said Shabib.

Established in 1974, the SIDF was created to provide mid- and long-term loans to the private industrial sector. Today it commands capital worth SR105 billion ($28 billion). It is therefore in a strong position to promote change across a whole swathe of the economy.

One of the SIDF’s flagship programs is its Nokhab training scheme, which has been running for over 40 years, providing entry-level employees with advanced qualifications in business, human resources and engineering.

“Two years ago, the SIDF set a 50:50 gender target on the program,” Shabib said. “Our Nokhab program a few years ago was obviously 100 percent men because that’s all you had. We mandated that 50 percent of all fresh graduates coming into this would be women.”

When institutions open up to accepting more women on their staff, they become far more meritocratic, benefiting from a wider pool of talent and experience, Shabib said.

IN NUMBERS
Women and COVID-19
* 22% – Women in G20 countries who lack access to formal bank accounts.

* 64% – Women-led firms’ share of business ops strongly affected by COVID-19.

* 30% – Job losses for women anticipated in COVID-19-affected sectors.

“It means that I can choose the best among men and women,” she said. “The women we have are not the best because they’re women — they’re the best because they worked hard and they earned their spot here. They are competing just like everybody else. We hire the best.”

The result has been a much more positive work culture. “Having women in the leadership team at the SIDF has positively impacted the aspirations of junior women working with us and set for them a good picture of what their career progression could look like,” Shabib said.

Shabib is perhaps a model example of women’s professional empowerment. After completing a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, Shabib became Saudi Arabia’s first female field engineer with Schlumberger Drilling and Measurements in 2003.

In 2008 she earned an MBA at the University of Oxford and went on to work in Al-Khobar as deputy services manager at Rawabi Trading and Contracting Co. Then, between 2011 and 2017, she joined Saudi Aramco, working in multiple roles. During this time, she completed her second master’s degree in oil and gas leadership and in 2015 became an Eisenhower Fellow.

Shabib co-founded the Group (Qudwa) in 2012 to raise awareness about gender differences in the workplace. Its 5,000 members — 77 percent of them men — conducted over 60 events and workshops and established mentorship programs for young women, which were later handed over to Aramco’s diversity and inclusion division.

From here she took on a job at the Center for Strategic Development, a semi-governmental think tank providing decision-makers with evidence-based research on socio-economic development under the Ministry of Economy and Planning.

The panel also sought to highlight some of the best practices at a local and global level for bringing more women into manufacturing. (AFP/File Photo)

These experiences have clearly served her well since joining the SIDF in 2018. A key part of the fund’s mandate is enabling the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program (NIDLP), which is helping the Kingdom grow into a leading industrial power and international logistics hub through a range of lending and advisory products. Central to this is encouraging more women to launch and manage private sector ventures.

“For the past 46 years, the SIDF has witnessed some of the most successful businessmen that are now leading the industrial sector. Now, as we hire more talented women, we aim to support them and enrich the industrial sector with successful businesswomen,” Shabib said.

“All offerings apply a gender-neutral policy without discrimination on grounds of gender with regards to access to services and opportunities. The SIDF continues to innovate new, more tailored products and services that ensure the same opportunities are offered to both men and women investors to increase the private sector’s participation in the Kingdom.”

These initiatives and more were on show at the W20 summit earlier in October, where Shabib took part in a panel discussion called “Replicating success in inclusive manufacturing,” alongside Selina Jackson, senior vice president of global government relations and public policy at Procter & Gamble, and Mohammed Al-Mutlaq, head of strategy at Alfanar Group.

“The purpose of the session was to highlight the benefits of diversity. These benefits will reflect on the industrial landscape and shed light on reasons why there are fewer female entrepreneurs and industrialists,” said Shabib.

A picture taken on July 29, 2020 shows pilgrims circumambulating around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the centre of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Makkah, at the start of the annual Muslim Hajj pilgrimage. (AFP/File Photo)

The panel also sought to highlight some of the best practices at a local and global level for bringing more women into manufacturing — acknowledging where these efforts have been successful and identifying areas in need of improvement.

One success story is an Alfanar factory in Saudi Arabia, which has been operated by a staff of 650 women since 2004. “It is amazing. I visited the factory. It was so humbling and so inspiring because they love the place, they are so happy and empowered and they are growing in their careers. Some of them have been there for 17 years, so they love it,” Shabib said.

Procter & Gamble can also be considered a success story, having achieved 50:50 gender representation on its board of directors.

“One of the most important things that was mentioned is how important gender bias training was in shifting the culture to make the environment more welcoming and retaining of women,” Shabib said. “Selina was saying how eye-opening it was for men when they did the training.”

With these inspiring examples in mind, the SIDF is launching a new program in November, in association with the Council of Saudi Chambers devoted to empowering female entrepreneurs, titled “How to start your industrial project.”

“By hiring more women in the SIDF and investing in their development, whether it’s through our credit program or the programs that we have in partnership with Stanford, LBS, or Fitch Learning, we will be contributing to creating a good base for female industrialists who will contribute to the advancement of the country in the years to come,” Shabib said.

“It will also add to the level of awareness of what it takes to become an ambitious female industrial entrepreneur, which is our vision.”

Twitter: @LujainBenGassem

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia to establish Future Women’s Civil Association

24/10/20

Ahmed Al-Rajhi. (Supplied)
  • The association’s mission will be to empower, develop, promote, and educate women to contribute toward the objectives of the national vision

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia is to establish a Future Women’s Civil Association to help develop the work of the volunteer and nonprofit sector in the Kingdom. Saudi Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Ahmed Al-Rajhi said his decision to set up the civil society was in line with the Vision 2030 reform plan to grow the charity sector in the country.
The association’s mission will be to empower, develop, promote, and educate women to contribute toward the objectives of the national vision, while supporting female participation in leading the Kingdom’s future social, economic, and cultural development.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Building Saudi Arabia’s B20 legacy for women everywhere

Time: 01 October 2020  

The Middle East and North Africa region is often categorized as a place where women have few opportunities, but we are breaking those stereotypes, starting at home. Our region has made huge progress in driving the economic empowerment of women, many of whom are leaders in the private and government sectors, as well as in their entrepreneurial ventures. But, as with the rest of the world, there is still a huge amount of work to be done to reach true equality.
The World Bank’s report “Women, Business and the Law 2020” ranked Saudi Arabia as the world’s top reformer in advancing women’s economic participation for 2019. This is recognition of the legislative policies the country established to boost female participation in the workforce, which it aims to increase from an average of just under 20 percent to more than 40 percent as part of Vision 2030. This also includes support to female entrepreneurs as they realize the dream of being business owners. Further, we have 35,000 Saudi women currently studying in 60 foreign countries on government scholarships, fulfilling the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 targets based on the roles of women and youth.
There has been remarkable progress so far and I am confident that this is just the beginning of our journey. However, as we work toward our goals, we also need to understand, and collaborate on remedying, the inequality issues many women still face.
The latest global research continues to paint an alarming picture of the gender gap in the workplace. A study commissioned by UN Women found that women still only earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, while the World Economic Forum found that only 55 percent of women (aged 15 to 64) are engaged in the labor market, as opposed to 78 percent of men. This picture only becomes more depressing when we look at the number of women in leadership or entrepreneurial roles. This year, there were only 37 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 companies list.
Making up 70 percent of front-line health care and service workers, women are currently demonstrating their critical role in addressing one of the largest crises in recent history. However, the coronavirus disease pandemic and subsequent recovery is expected to widen the gender pay gap even further.
But there is cause for optimism, as some countries, governments and businesses across the world are not only recognizing the need for equality, but are also seeing its very real and tangible rewards. New analysis by the Boston Consulting Group shows that, if women and men participated equally as entrepreneurs, the global gross domestic product could rise by between 3 and 6 percent, boosting the global economy by $2.5 trillion to $5 trillion. Given the economic crisis the entire world is currently facing, we cannot afford to ignore the benefits gender equality can offer.

As we work toward our goals, we need to understand, and collaborate on remedying, the inequality issues many women still face.

Rania Nashar

During this year’s G20 Presidency of Saudi Arabia, the B20 established the inaugural Women in Business (WIB) Action Council and it has been my honor to serve as chair. This role has refueled my optimism, as leveling the playing field for women in the workforce has been central to all our work across the B20.
The B20’s role, as the business voice of the G20, is to identify the most pressing priorities impacting all business — large and small — in the developed and developing worlds. It is important to note that the WIB Action Council is the first initiative of its kind in the history of the G20 and B20. And we have broken records too, with women constituting 33 percent of the overall task force and action council membership, and 43 percent of the chairs.
Over the past year, the B20 has engaged with more than 650 business leaders across the G20 and beyond through its six task forces and WIB Action Council in an effort to ensure an inclusive and action-oriented process. Together, we have developed 25 recommendations to make to the G20 that we believe will help restore and reinvigorate the global economy. These recommendations have now been submitted and will be considered at the G20 summit next month.
The WIB Action Council recommendations call on the G20 to take the necessary action to unlock the advancement and full leadership potential of women by driving reforms, fostering an inclusive environment, ensuring fair and equal pay and encouraging new methods of flexible working.
We also recommended promoting female business ownership by creating an enabling environment for female-founded startups and eliminating barriers to expertise and finance. We also asked for a comprehensive “Women in STEM” road map to be implemented to increase the number of women in high-skilled jobs.
Finally, we are calling for a diverse cross-section of women to be included in all stages of policy design, with national policies on equality to be evaluated and amended to ensure they protect the rights and equal opportunities of women, and the implementation of policies for employers that set goals and transparent disclosure requirements to increase women in leadership positions.
As Saudi women, we have made history and will undoubtedly leave a legacy for future B20s. To advance, we must collectively encourage and support the G20 to make these recommendations a reality and ensure we leave a lasting legacy for future generations of women, and men, across the world.

• Rania Nashar is Chair of the Women in Business Action Council at B20 Saudi Arabia, the voice of the private sector to the G20

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

This article was first published in Arab News

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How anti-harassment law of 2018 set the tone for the new Saudi Arabia

Time: 16 October 2020  

Protection offered by Saudi Arabia’s 2018 anti-harassment law enabled women to gain new freedoms without hindrance. (AFP/File Photo)
  • The criminalization of sexual harassment in May 2018 was a watershed moment for Saudi women, leading to unprecedented reform
  • Some 5.5 million women over the age of 21 are already benefiting from sweeping reforms guarding their rights and safety at work

DUBAI: In the space of just a few years, the legal rights of Saudi women have fundamentally changed, opening up new freedoms of movement, the ability to choose where they want to live, and the right to pursue their own career aspirations for the first time.

Bold reforms implemented under the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 development plan have already led to significant growth in the number of women joining the labor force, from 18 percent in 2017 to 23 percent in 2018, according to World Bank figures.

Although this figure is still far lower than the average of 59 percent among member states of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it marks a significant turning point for a largely conservative society.

For this revolution to occur, vital legislation first had to be drafted to guarantee the rights and safety of women in the workplace. Key to this was the criminalization of sexual harassment.

The anti-harassment law of May 2018 defines sexual harassment as “all conduct of a sexual nature from one person to the other, including touching of the body, honor or modesty in any way, shape or form.” The definition also applies to electronic communications such as social media.

Bold reforms implemented under the Kingdom’s ambitious Vision 2030 development plan have already led to significant growth in the number of women joining the labor force. (AFP/File Photo)

According to the Shoura Council, Saudi Arabia’s formal consultative body that drafted the law, the aim is “to combat the crime of harassment, preventing it from occurring, applying punishment to the perpetrators, and protecting the victim in order to safeguard the individual’s privacy, dignity and personal freedom guaranteed by Islamic law and regulations.”

The statute on sexual harassment grants victims the right to anonymity, and allows courts to hand down punishments of up to two years in jail and maximum fines of SR100,000 ($26,500).

In the most severe cases, involving children or disabled victims, the law allows penalties of up to five years in prison and a maximum fine of SR300,000 ($80,000). The law also criminalizes inciting or assisting harassment and falsely reporting offenses.

This was a watershed moment for Saudi Arabia. With this strict legal deterrent in place, an avalanche of reforms could follow, empowering women to enter civic life, beginning in June 2018 with the lifting of the ban on them driving.

Other decrees soon followed, including amendments to the male guardianship system so that women over the age of 21 were free to leave the house unaccompanied, and the equalizing of women’s right to choose a place of residency.

Discrimination based on gender in employment was also prohibited, as were the dismissal of pregnant women and discrimination based on gender in accessing credit.

New childcare centers were established and subsidies made available to help more women leave the home.

Pension equality was also introduced by equalizing the retirement age for men and women, and mandating pension care credits for maternity leave.

An estimated 5.5 million Saudi women over the age of 21 are already benefiting from these reforms, and long-entrenched social norms are gradually coming undone.

Due to these rapid developments, the World Bank’s “Women, Business, and the Law 2020” report, published in April, recognized Saudi Arabia as the world’s top reformer in the last year.

“Saudi Arabia basically has become one of the leaders in the Arab world in terms of women empowerment,” Issam Abu Sulaiman, the World Bank’s regional director for the Gulf Cooperation Council, said at the time, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

An estimated 5.5 million Saudi women over the age of 21 are already benefiting from these reforms, and long-entrenched social norms are gradually coming undone. (AFP/File Photo)

The groundwork for this rapid social change was laid by the anti-harassment law, which has given women the confidence and legal protection they need to freely participate and contribute to society.

Now an amendment is being drafted to further strengthen the penalty for sexual harassment in Saudi Arabia to include the naming and shaming of offenders.

Shoura Council members believe that the threat of defamation will act as an even greater deterrent to misconduct than fines and imprisonment alone.

“Defamation is for the larger good of society,” Lina Almaeena, a member of the Shoura Council and co-founder of the Jeddah United Sports Co., told Arab News.

“It’s a deterrent that many countries have applied and that has proved effective in reducing harassment cases. The anti-sexual harassment law has proved effective in preventing misconduct.”

Lina Almaeena, a member of the Shoura Council and co-founder of the Jeddah United Sports Co. (Supplied)

By making the issue a matter of honor, it is felt that households will take greater care when educating their children about social conduct. “There’s going to be more awareness, and families will play a bigger role,” Almaeena said.

Before it can come into force, the draft amendment must first go before the Council of Ministers for endorsement and then be issued as a royal decree by King Salman.

“We are talking now about making a new amendment by adding a new article to the existing law. We are not talking about a new law,” Faisal Fadhil, a UK-educated legal expert and Shoura Council member, told Arab News.

Some observers believe strengthening the existing law will allow even more women to join the labor force without fear of harassment in the workplace.

“It would encourage more young girls and women to join the workforce with confidence, feeling protected, and feeling they’ll be supported if they’re faced with any harassment,” Maha Akeel, director of social and family affairs at the Jeddah-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation, told Arab News.

With this strict legal deterrent in place, an avalanche of reforms could follow, empowering women to enter civic life, beginning in June 2018 with the lifting of the ban on them driving. (AFP/File Photo)

No statistics are readily available on the incidence of sexual harassment in Saudi Arabia, largely due to past reluctance to report violations.

There is therefore limited data to demonstrate its prevalence or show the impact of legislation.

“Maybe we’ll see more reporting. Maybe we’ll see fewer public displays of harassment. It’s difficult to measure the impact, lacking factual studies and statistics,” said Akeel.

She nevertheless sees the threat of defamation as a potent weapon against harassment, which could prove especially effective in Saudi culture.

“Sometimes people fear the public naming and shaming more than financial penalties or even imprisonment … because it will harm their reputation,” Akeel said.

“We’re a conservative society, so it might be more of a deterrent than the punishments tried earlier.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Hala Al-Tuwaijri, head of the Women’s Empowerment Team at G20 Riyadh

27/08/20

Hala Al-Tuwaijri

Hala Al-Tuwaijri is the head of the Women’s Empowerment Team at G20 Riyadh and has been the secretary-general of the Saudi Family Affairs Council since 2017.

In a recent interview, she spoke about the impact on Saudi families of the social reforms taking place in Saudi Arabia and the challenges surrounding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

She said: “The Saudi family is mostly intact and holding up well in most areas, but it is greatly affected by the social and economic changes in the Kingdom.

“There are a lot of changes that directly affect the family, such as the increase in job opportunities for both sexes, urban sprawl, and migrating from rural areas to cities.

“But under the current situation, health, social, and economic challenges that were brought up alongside COVID-19 were especially taxing on the Saudi family.”

“We are very keen to unify all efforts to spread awareness and are activating initiatives that help families overcome this crisis,” Al-Tuwaijri added.

Al-Tuwaijri gained a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1998, a master’s degree in English literature/drama in 2004, and in 2011 a Ph.D. in American literature/drama, all from King Saud University (KSU).

She started her career as a teacher, but then joined KSU’s staff as a lecturer in 2004. She is currently an assistant professor of English literature at the university, teaching modern English literature and literary criticism.

Al-Tuwaijri was appointed as the vice chair of the department of English language and literature in 2012 and was the vice dean of KSU’s College of Arts from 2013 to 2015.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Dr. Amal bint Jameel Fatani, Saudi Arabia’s cultural attache to the UK

Time: 04 August, 2020

Dr. Amal bint Jameel Fatani
  • Fatani holds a doctorate in pharmacology and toxicology from the University of Strathclyde

Dr. Amal bint Jameel Fatani was recently appointed Saudi Arabia’s cultural attache to the UK. Education Minister Hamad Al-Asheikh issued a decision to appoint the Kingdom’s first women cultural attaches on Sunday. Other appointments include Fahda bint Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh as cultural attache in Ireland and Dr. Yusra bint Hussain Al-Jazairy as acting cultural attache in Morocco.
The three women are all educators and their appointments are part of a move to promote the Kingdom’s educational and cultural presence internationally.
Fatani holds a doctorate in pharmacology and toxicology from the University of Strathclyde. She obtained her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in pharmacology and toxicology from the College of Pharmacy at King Saud University (KSU), where she is currently an associate professor.
Her previous roles include consultant and general supervisor of female affairs at the Ministry of Higher Education after spending two years as general supervisor of female sections in all sectors at the ministry.
Before joining the ministry she held several positions at KSU and was among the first female pharmacy graduates in the Kingdom.
After receiving her doctorate she was appointed vice chair of the pharmacology and toxicology department. She is the first female dean of the nine scientific and medical colleges, and has worked with the rector, deputies, and deans of male colleges to build a unified strategic plan for gaining accreditation, a higher global ranking, and implementing best international practices in higher education.

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