Arab world among top gender diversity improvers, survey shows

Time: 27 May 2021

Rania Nashar, Samba Financial Group CEO, was Saudi Arabia’s first female chief executive. (File/AFP)

71 percent of MENA companies made progress on gender diversity
MENA ranked last in female representation on boards

TEXAS: Organizations in the Middle East and North Africa are among those to have made the most progress in gender distribution over the past five years, according to a survey by CEO community YPF.
In the MENA region, 71 percent of companies have made progress in this area, second only to Latin America at 73 percent, and ahead of South Asia at 68 percent, YPF said in its first Global Chief Executive Gender Equality Survey of 2,079 CEOs from 106 countries.
YPF’s sample included 23 percent female CEOs, which compares with a global figure of 5 percent, it said.
The report showed that gender inequality increases with seniority. While 39 percent of employees at respondent companies were female, 30 percent of senior management were women and 20 percent of board directors.
However, there has been considerable progress on the measure in the past five years with 24 percent reporting a “somewhat more diverse” board of directors in that time frame and 16 percent “significantly more diverse.” Among senior managers, the respective numbers are 34 percent and 18 percent.

Companies in the Middle East and North Africa have the least gender diverse boards, the survey showed. However, while just 16 percent of directors were women in the MENA region, the figure was not much better in Europe (21 percent) and the US (20 percent).
“There are a lot of things to be done to encourage the empowerment of women,” Reem Osman, CEO of Saudi German Hospital Group, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “As the data shows, having more women in the C-suite is empowering more women, giving women more senior positions and recruiting more women.”
Companies globally with women on the board are more likely than their male-led counterparts (46 percent vs. 37 percent) to offer services that help women reach the top, such as female leadership and mentoring programs, the survey showed. Almost one third of female CEOs offered flexible work arrangements at their companies compared with 21 percent for male respondents.
The biggest obstacle for CEOs in the MENA region was a lack of mentors, with 51 percent citing that as the main challenge compared with 36 percent in the rest of the world.

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Who’s Who: Dr. Reem A. Alfrayan, director at Soudah Development Company

Time: 07 April 2021

Dr. Reem A. Alfrayan

Dr. Reem A. Alfrayan is the newly appointed director of development and community partnerships at the Soudah Development Company, owned by the Public Investment Fund.

Previously, Alfrayan served as the executive director of G20 Saudi Secretariat, and in September 2014 was the first woman to be appointed as assistant secretary-general at the Council of Saudi Chambers.

Alfrayan received a bachelor’s degree in technical education and training, workforce development and education at Ohio State University in 2001.

In 2002, she earned a master’s degree in instructional technologies and media policy, and leadership from the same university.

Alfrayan obtained another master’s degree in educational leadership and organization, policy and leadership at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2013.

She completed a Ph.D. in educational leadership and organization at the same university in 2014.

After obtaining her first master’s degree, she joined the Arab Open University as instructional technology unit supervisor at its headquarters in Kuwait in 2003.

Between 2005 and 2006, Alfrayan served as a training specialist with a project launched by the General Authority for Tourism and Antiquities.

She then joined King Abdul Aziz Medical City as an administrative planning and processing development officer.

She also served as general manager of businesswomen’s affairs at the Council of Saudi Chambers from October 2007 to January 2010.

Alfrayan also actively participates in volunteer work.

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A Seat at the Table: In Conversation with H.R.H. Princess Reema bint Bandar, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States

Time: 07 April 2021

This article was first published in Calchamber Advocacy 

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Women politicians on the rise but more must be done

Time: 06 April 2021

The coronavirus disease remains a challenge for women health-wise, economically and socially. (AFP)

March is the month of women. Starting with International Women’s Day on March 8, the month also sees the annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the largest UN gathering on gender equality (March 15-26), during which the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) releases its “Women in Politics” report. This year, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) also marked the month with a milestone achievement: The launch of its specialized Women Development Organization (WDO).
The reports and indications presented at this year’s CSW65 highlighted some progress for women, but also reflected great concern due to some setbacks, especially as a result of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The two-week virtual gathering — held under the theme “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls” — ended with the adoption by UN member states of the “Agreed Conclusions.” These recognize the need to significantly accelerate the pace of progress to ensure women’s full participation and leadership at all levels of decision-making in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and in the public sector. They also recognized that temporary special measures, such as quotas and increased political will, are needed as an enabling pathway to this goal.
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) remains a challenge for women — health-wise, economically and socially. The Agreed Conclusions acknowledge that the pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities that perpetuate multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, as well as racism, stigmatization and xenophobia. The data shows that women have been mostly absent from COVID-19 government task forces around the world (they make up only 24 percent of the 225 task force members examined across 137 countries). Such disproportionate representation will hamper women’s recovery from the pandemic, thus prolonging their hardships, considering that COVID-19 has had a staggering impact on women — from their roles as front-line healthcare workers to the loss of jobs, particularly as the informal sector shrinks, and the alarming spike in domestic violence and the unpaid care burden, which threatens to push 47 million additional women into extreme poverty.
Meanwhile, the IPU-UN Women map of women in politics 2021, which provides global rankings of women in executive, government and parliamentary positions as of Jan. 1, shows all-time highs for the number of countries with female heads of state or heads of government (up to 22 countries from 20 last year, with Europe being the region with the most countries led by women) and the global share of women ministers, especially in Europe and the Americas. While women ministers continue to dominate the portfolios covering social, family and women’s affairs, there has been a slight increase in their share of traditionally male-led ministerial portfolios such as defense (up from 11.9 percent to 13.5 percent) and finance (from 10.1 percent to 11.5 percent), plus a significant increase in foreign affairs (from 16.8 percent to 26 percent).
However, despite the growing number of women at the highest levels of political power, widespread gender inequalities persist. Progression among women holding ministerial portfolios has slowed, with a small increase from 21.3 percent in 2020 to 21.9 percent in 2021; the number of countries with no women in government has increased from nine to 12; and only 25.5 percent of national parliamentarians are women, compared to 24.9 percent last year. The ranking of the regions in terms of the percentage of women in parliament is: The Americas (32.2 percent), Europe with the Nordic countries (30.5 percent), Europe without the Nordic countries (29.1 percent), Sub-Saharan Africa (25.1 percent), Asia (20.8 percent), the Middle East and North Africa (19.3 percent), and the Pacific (18 percent). The countries that have the highest percentage of women in parliament are Rwanda (61.3 percent), Cuba (53.4 percent) and the UAE (50 percent).
Although Saudi Arabia is among the countries that have no women in government, and the percentage of women in the Shoura Council remains at 20 percent, the Kingdom has made tremendous progress toward women’s empowerment, including making laws that eliminate discrimination against women, protect them from violence and support their full and effective participation in development at all levels. Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 includes the National Transformation Program, which aimed to increase the rate of female participation in the labor market to 25 percent in 2020. This target was exceeded, with the country achieving 31 percent by the end of last year, with Saudi women assuming many leadership positions in various fields.
Meanwhile, the OIC has also gained traction on the road to female empowerment. On March 24, the Ministerial Council of the OIC’s WDO adopted its internal rules and regulations, thus setting it up to start operating. Taking off during an exceptional year, with circumstances that will have a long-term impact, the WDO has its work cut out for it. In addition to the factors highlighted in the CSW and IPU reports, women in many of the 57 member countries of the OIC (currently only 15 of them are members of the WDO) are also severely affected by conflict, instability, underdevelopment, terrorism and extremism, which not only hamper their participation in public life but also threaten their lives.

Despite the growing number of women at the highest levels of political power, widespread gender inequalities persist.

Maha Akeel

Numbers and percentages do not give the full picture and they can be misleading. More important than the number of women in parliament or their percentage in government and the portfolios they hold is the role they actually play, the contributions they make and their engagement in decision-making. Political, cultural, social and legislative barriers continue to hinder women’s full and effective participation in the development of societies worldwide. More concrete measures need to be taken at all levels of government and society that will enable women to play a more active role in decision-making.

Maha Akeel is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. Twitter: @MahaAkeel1
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

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Saudi fund gives women travel expense increase for daily commute

Time: 05 April 2021

The program was also extended to two years from the original 12 months. (File/Shutterstock)

The Saudi Human Resources Development Fund (HADAF) raised the financial support offered by the “Wusool” program to SR1100 monthly ($293)
RIYADH: A fund that provides financial assistance for Saudi women to get to work has been extended.

The Saudi Human Resources Development Fund (HADAF) raised the financial support offered by the “Wusool” program to SR1100 monthly ($293) from SR800 for those earning SR6000 or less, Al Eqtisadiah newspaper reported. The grant covers up to 80 percent of commute costs.

It comes as the government ushers in a number of reforms aimed at boosting the number of women at work.
The program was also extended to two years from the original 12 months, the newspaper said.
Transport is provided through companies licensed by the Ministry of Transport to ensure the safety of users.
The program covers 13 regions across the Kingdom, consisting of Riyadh, Makkah, the Eastern Province, Al Madinah, Tabuk, Asir, Qassim, Hail, Jizan, the Northern Borders, Najran, Al-Jouf, and Al-Baha.

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7 winners of Princess Seetah bint Abdul Aziz Award for excellence in social work honored at ceremony

Time: 05 April 2021

The winners of the Princess Seetah bint Abdul Aziz Award, selected from 404 applications, received their honors during a socially distanced virtual ceremony broadcast live via YouTube
RIYADH: A group of seven winners have been awarded a prestigious Saudi accolade for their excellence in social work during the coronavirus pandemic.

The winners of the Princess Seetah bint Abdul Aziz Award, selected from 404 applications, received their honors during a socially distanced virtual ceremony broadcast live via YouTube.

Each award winner delivered a short video presentation explaining their social work initiatives over the last year and how they were able to provide aid to people throughout the Kingdom suffering the financial, health, and social effects of the global virus outbreak.

Held in the luxury surroundings of the Prince Sultan Grand Hall at Al-Faisaliah Hotel in Riyadh, the awards ceremony and celebratory lunch was restricted to just winners and their main contributors due to COVID-19 precautionary measures.

Secretary-general of the social work awards, Fahad Al-Maghlouth, said: “There is room for hope and giving, and today we celebrate to honor the winners of the Princess Seetah bint Abdul Aziz Award for excellence in social work in its eighth session, and we have the right to be proud of them.”

The theme of this year’s awards was “social work in the face of crises and dangers,” and winners were congratulated by Prince Turki bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al-Saud, Ahmed Al-Rajhi, the chairman of the board of the Princess Seetah Foundation and Saudi minister of human resources and social development, and Al-Maghlouth.

Al-Rajhi said: “Our dear country has remained proud with its advanced developmental achievements and its sincere and honorable humanitarian stances when difficulties intensify, challenges emerge, and tribulations besiege us, despite all the difficult circumstances the world has experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This country, by the grace of God, and then through the efforts of our wise leadership, was a model for the concept of a strong state with its ambitions, ready for crises with all its energies, prepared in terms of the readiness of its infrastructures, support for the people on its land and everywhere. Do we not have the right to feel proud and pride?”

The minister also highlighted the Saudi green project that aims to invest in promoting quality of life and support for those in need.

“The project targets remote areas and needy families, and works on development, training, and support in accordance with specific environmental programs throughout the year in coordination with the relevant authorities … to improve social conditions and environmental living for citizens and families to help them lead a decent and productive life.”

The program titled, “The Green Project: Together to Support Green Saudi Arabia” assists in career development, year-round training, city development, and environmental growth.

Addressing the awards ceremony, Al-Rajhi noted the importance of social work in contributing to the development of the Kingdom and he praised King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for making “human stability their top priority.”

Al-Maghlouth said the award winners were shining examples of the “generosity and loyalty without limits” shown by the nation, adding that “the most amazing achievements are when they carry human touches that rejoice hearts and draw smiles and inspire optimism and confirm the depth of cohesion between the sons of the nation and its leadership.”

Following the speeches, a video presentation documented some of the health, bereavement, and financial challenges being faced by the world from the COVID-19 pandemic and how collaborative schemes such as track-and-trace apps, humanitarian aid, and financial assistance had helped to ease hardships.

The category winners were:

The excellence in national achievement award went to the health ministry’s volunteering program and education ministry’s distance learning digital platform Madrasati (my school).

The Madrasti system helped more than 5 million public and 1 million private students from 900 schools throughout the Kingdom forced to close during the pandemic.

The General Authority for Endowments scooped the excellence in Islamic endowment accolade for helping to mitigate the effects of the virus on people through its humanitarian initiatives.

The Madinah Al-Munawarah NGO was presented with the excellence in social work award for its good city initiative.

Sheikh Abdullah Ibrahim Al-Subeaei received the excellence for social work entrepreneurs honor for setting up a charitable institution and donating money to various causes in the Kingdom during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Advanced Petrochemical Co. was awarded the corporate social responsibility award for pandemic projects, and Sadara Chemical Co. for its work with the health sector in tackling COVID-19.

The late Princess Seetah bint Abdul Aziz was known for her generosity and compassion toward those in need, running numerous social assistance programs.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Who’s Who: Reema Al-Asmari, BNP Paribas head of territory for Saudi Arabia

Time: 22 March 2021

Reema Al-Asmari

Reema Al-Asmari recently joined BNP Paribas as head of territory for Saudi Arabia, reinforcing BNP’s corporate and institutional banking (CIB) presence in the Kingdom.
In her new position, Al-Asmari will oversee the bank’s national commercial strategy, with a focus on strengthening relationships with strategic clients, multinational companies and government-related agencies.
She will also be responsible for expanding the bank’s product and service portfolio in all CIB segments, including sustainable finance.
Al-Asmari joined BNP Paribas from Natixis, where she held the position of CEO for Saudi Arabia.
Before joining Natixis, Reema worked for nine years with JPMorgan Chase & Co. in the Kingdom. Her last role in the US bank was treasury services country head. Before that, she was treasurer for Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Johannesburg.
Discussing her anew position, Al-Asmari said: “I am honored to join BNP Paribas with the mission to grow the bank’s presence here in Saudi Arabia. As a dynamic bank which continues to evolve alongside Saudi’s ever-changing business environment, I am enthusiastic about the opportunities to build upon its current success.”
Al-Asmari takes over from Jean-Francois Sibille, who will become head of compliance for BNP Paribas Middle East and Africa.
She will work alongside Ammar Pharaon, who heads the BNP Paribas Regional Investment Company (BRIC), also located in Riyadh. BNP Paribas has operated in the Middle East and North Africa region for more than 45 years, offering corporate and institutional banking, and international financial services.

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How Shaima Al-Husseini and Sports For All helped promote a healthy lifestyle in Saudi Arabia


Shaima Al-Husseini is the Managing Director of Saudi’s Sports For All (SFA) Federation. (Sports For All)

The positive impact Saudi Sports For All (SFA) had on a homebound population’s mental and physical wellbeing during a suffocating lockdown has been tangible
Programs such as “Baytak Nadeek” (Your Home, Your Gym), the Women’s Fitness Festival, and others attracted thousands, and often millions, of participants through social media channels
The year 2020 will forever be remembered for one thing, and one thing only. But from adversity came innovation, and a fierce fightback.

What the rest of 2021 and beyond will look like after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic abates remains to be seen, but the positive impact Saudi Sports For All (SFA) had on a homebound population’s mental and physical wellbeing during a suffocating lockdown has been tangible.

Programs such as “Baytak Nadeek” (Your Home, Your Gym), the Women’s Fitness Festival, and others attracted thousands, and often millions, of participants through social media channels.

“The lockdown of 2020 showed us how we can innovate and work around tight, necessary, restrictions.” Shaima Al-Husseini, managing director at SFA, told Arab News. “If we have another lockdown, we could build on the foundation of the successful programs we’ve put in place and innovate further as needed.”

While Saudi Arabia and other GCC countries are not short on major international sporting events, the SFA’s mission is to ensure that sports thrive at grassroots levels. It’s a bottom-up approach that has over the last three years seen the SFA sign a number of fitness initiatives at local communities across the country.

Among them is an agreement with the Ministry of Municipality and Rural Affairs and Housing to activate parks and public spaces in three cities, with multi-sport, running and walking programs, equipment rentals, and community academies being introduced to impact healthy long-term behavior.

In November, the SFA signed a memorandum of understanding with Majid Al-Futtaim under which the sports group will produce community programs at future Majid Al-Futtaim malls, while receiving guidance on how to ensure SFA facilities are aligned with international standard green building requirements.

There are other plans, on a more global scale.

“We also developed and strengthened partnerships both locally and internationally with parties such as the World Health Organization (WHO), PepsiCo, the Global Goals World Cup, The Association for International Sport for All, Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronic and Intellectual Sports, and many others,” Al-Husseini said.

“Our collaboration with the WHO will see the SFA host global events in the Kingdom, including the Riyadh edition of Walk the Talk,” she added. “The SFA’s strategy will also receive technical assistance from WHO which will keep it aligned with the global action plan of physical activity.”

Since its establishment in 2018, the SFA has become an integral part of the Saudi sporting scene, but for Al-Husseini, there is much work still to be done and no time to sit back and admire what has already been achieved.

“The SFA’s focus is to take a holistic approach to healthy living under several pillars that benefit all sectors of society. So, it’s difficult to be proud of one (particular) step, when we have achieved so much in different areas,” she said.

“With 2020’s lockdown restricting movement, we had to innovate to bring ‘at home’ solutions to Saudis throughout the Kingdom, and we were able to deliver a number of digital offerings to keep people active. We continue to work towards our goal to have 40 percent of all people in Saudi active by 2030.”

The level of engagement during the lockdown prompted SFA President Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal to say: “I’m awestruck by the power of our healthy and active community.”

Crowning a hectic 2020 for the SFA was the launch of the Women’s Football League (WFL) in November, with 24 teams taking part in the competition across Riyadh, Jedddah, and Dammam.

“The establishment of the WFL has been a landmark achievement in Saudi’s sporting history,” said Al-Husseini.

What perhaps went unnoticed beyond its cultural significance was the sheer scope of logistics needed to get the WFL off the ground, with the competition originally mooted for the start of the year but delayed by COVID-19.

“Having the WFL kick off in three parts of the country allowed for a wide scope of players to come forward and sign up, and we had 607 players in 24 teams that had all-female organizational and technical teams,” said Al-Husseini, adding: “The players’ enthusiasm for the game and their sheer talent were remarkable. It’s exciting to think about how the SFA can continue to develop the League, both in terms of enhancing the infrastructure for women in sports and offering training opportunities for local referees.”

On Dec. 17, Challenge Riyadh defeated Jeddah Eagles to take home the WFL Champions Cup and the prize money of SR150,000 ($39,975). The league is set to return for a second season.

Its success bodes well for the future of other organized sports competitions.

“If the interest in the WFL is any indicator, women’s sport in Saudi Arabia is likely to expand exponentially,” Al-Husseini said. “We are working towards developing sports across all sectors and women’s sport is certainly included in that.”

Despite her busy schedule, Al-Husseini herself continues to regularly play tennis and squash, and is an avid follower of basketball and American Football. And while she has no particular favorite individual athletes, she points to several inspirational Saudi female role models.

“HRH Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud is a role model for any young female Saudi,” she said. “Not only is she the former Chair of the SFA, but she is also currently the Saudi Ambassador to the US.

“In July, she was confirmed as a member of the International Olympic Committee, which further cemented her commitment to continue endorsing the ongoing endeavors of the SFA, where she remains a member of the board, to reach its Vision 2030 goals.”

Al-Husseini believes that while the SFA’s role is to encourage a healthy and active lifestyle at community level, it can also be a catalyst to promoting the nation’s high-achieving athletes towards professional careers in sport.

“We are working with different bodies to develop the necessary infrastructure to keep raising the caliber of sporting talent in the Kingdom,” she said.

“As different sports continue to receive the necessary support in terms of funding and facilities, and as athletes continue to be given the right environment, training, and encouragement to achieve their best, Saudi Arabia will continue to produce competitors that will make their mark in the international and Olympic arenas.”

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Attacks on Saudi Arabia threaten global energy security, Princess Reema bint Bandar warns


Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar said the attacks by Iran-backed militias on the Kingdom threaten civilians. (File/Wikipedia)

Lives of innocent civilians at risk from actions of Iran-backed militias, says Princess Reema bint Bandar
‘We are exercising extreme restraint in the face of a daily barrage of weaponized drones and ballistic missiles,’ she adds
LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US said “egregious terrorist attacks” by Iran-backed militias on the Kingdom threatened both civilians and global energy security.
In the most recent incident, Arab coalition forces intercepted a drone targeting an oil tank yard in Ras Tanura Port and a missile heading for an Aramco residential area in Dhahran on Sunday.
The attacks “represent a threat to the stability of global energy supplies, affecting the entire global economy and endangering the lives of Saudi workers in Aramco and thousands more from 80 different nationalities, including Americans,” Princess Reema bint Bandar said on Wednesday.
She added: “We are exercising extreme restraint in the face of a daily barrage of weaponized drones and ballistic missiles.”
The envoy praised the “brave and remarkable efforts” of the Saudi Armed Forces in successfully intercepting more than 526 Houthi drones and more than 346 ballistic missiles, and protecting civilians from all manner of threats.
She said that the situation is distressing because despite the Kingdom’s efforts to resolve the conflict in Yemen, Houthi cross-border attacks have escalated in the past few weeks. In addition, she said, the Iran-backed group has launched an offensive in an attempt to take control of the oil-rich city of Marib, which has been a safe haven for internally displaced people since the conflict began six years ago. The Houthis have also shelled and bombarded the city of Taiz and other Yemeni civilian locations, she added.
“The Kingdom is committed to ending the war in Yemen through a political resolution but on the other side of this conflict is a group driven by the extremist ideology of the Iranian regime,” Princess Reema said.
The Houthi militias continue to disregard the suffering of the people of Yemen and are not interested in serious discussions to resolve the conflict, she added. Meanwhile the Kingdom, from the beginning of the conflict, has shown determination to restore stability and security to the war-torn country through a negotiated settlement, she said.
The Kingdom also supports all UN-led peace initiatives, Princess Reema said, and Saudi officials are actively supporting the work of Martin Griffiths, the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, and Tim Lenderking, the newly appointed US special envoy to the country.
Meanwhile, Iran continues to provide weapons, training and technical support to the Houthis, she said as she called on the international community to take action to prevent the smuggling into Yemen of Iranian weapons that are “being used to terrorize Yemenis and to launch attacks on civilian targets in Saudi Arabia.”
The princess also pointed out that the Houthis have denied UN teams access to carry out emergency repairs on the Safer oil tanker, which has been moored in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen for more than five years. Its condition has deteriorated to the extent that it threatens a catastrophic oil spill, which experts warn could be four times as bad as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.

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Women are equal stakeholders in Saudi Arabia’s development


Over the past few years, the kingdom has witnessed 90 major human rights reforms, of which women’s empowerment constitutes the largest share

The reforms undertaken by the kingdom to empower women since the launch of Vision 2030 has helped the Saudi economy become more resilient.(REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo)

The past year, plagued by the unfortunate COVID-19 pandemic, has undoubtedly been challenging for all economies alike. A sound recovery from the pandemic is possible with women at the frontlines. In line with the International Women’s Day theme this year, Saudi Arabia, too, celebrates women’s tremendous contribution in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the pandemic.

The reforms undertaken by the kingdom to empower women since the launch of Vision 2030 has helped the Saudi economy become more resilient. Led by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and the Crown Prince, Saudi Arabia has witnessed 90 major human rights reforms over the past few years, and women’s empowerment constitutes the largest share of these reforms.

For two years in a row, Saudi Arabia has achieved notable progress in “Women, Business and the Law Report”, a global measure of women legal reforms published by the World Bank. On a scale of 1 to 100, Saudi Arabia scored 80 in WBL 2021, up from 70.6 in WBL 2020. Our scores in the indicators of mobility, workplace, pay, entrepreneurship, and pension put us on par with many advanced economies with long traditions of women legal reforms.

This achievement builds on landmark changes in Saudi Arabia, including empowering women with the right to vote and run as candidates in municipal elections in 2015 and the right to drive in 2017. In 2018, Saudi Arabia criminalised sexual harassment in public and private sector employment. Legal amendments now protect women from discrimination in employment, including job advertisements and hiring, and prohibit employers from dismissing a woman during her pregnancy and maternity leave. Saudi Arabia also equalised the retirement age for women and men at 60 years, extending women’s working lives, earnings, and contributions. And, most recently, the Saudi Ministry of Defence has opened its doors for women to join the armed forces.

The elimination of all restrictions on women’s employment in industrial jobs, such as mining, construction, and manufacturing, has already translated into key changes on the ground. The overall rate of women’s participation in the labour market increased from 22 per cent to nearly 30 per cent in the last two years. The growth in certain sectors has been very impressive. For instance, the proportion of women staff at the Saudi Industrial Development Fund increased from zero to 17 per cent in just three years. Today, the industrial sector offers more than 39,000 job opportunities to women, a rate of 37 per cent of nationalisation of jobs.

In fact, the private sector registered a 130 per cent increase in the number of working Saudi women during the last four years. Today 30 per cent of the total Saudi work force in the private sector is represented by women. This progress will certainly gain more momentum in future. Women represent 58 per cent of university students in Saudi Arabia, with science, technology and engineering being their preferred subjects of choice that they further pursue overseas. The talent pool will add to the intellectual capital of Saudi Arabia.

Reforms tend to have a multiplier effect. Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Justice had earlier approved four landmark decisions in support of women’s rights pertaining to protecting minors, divorcees, women who have custody of their children and law graduates. Those reforms have led to an increase in the number of licenced female lawyers in the Kingdom by 66 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019. The Ministry of Justice has created a women’s department. As thousands of women attend programmes run by the Justice Training Centre, many more will enter the legal workforce.

Women entrepreneurship has also been encouraged by prohibiting gender-based discrimination in accessing financial services. As a result, the number of women-owned companies in the Kingdom increased by 60 per cent in the past two years.

Empowerment is not only about creating job opportunities but also about providing a conducive environment to nurture talent. Our efforts in this direction continue unabated. To keep pace with the need of the digital labour market, two digital colleges have been opened in Riyadh and Jeddah to offer women specialised training programmes in network systems management, Internet of Things, smart cities, robotics technology and artificial intelligence. The Transportation Program for Working Women (Wusool), which provides 80 per cent subsidy, has over 10,000 registered Saudi female employees. The programme not only aims to find solutions to reduce transportation costs for Saudi women working in the private sector but also to improve and develop the environment needed to transport women from and to workplaces, by ensuring high-safety and high-quality transportation service in partnership with private taxi companies using licenced smart apps.

Today, women hold decision-making positions in the public and private sectors, assuming important roles such as deputy minister, ambassador, university director, and chairperson of the board of directors in a number of companies. Women have broken the proverbial glass ceiling across sectors — Saudi Arabia now has its first female professional racing driver, award-winning women film producers and women judges.

We are committed to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) related to women at the global level and strongly support an inclusive approach that empowers women in the economic, social, health, educational, technological, and cultural sectors, among others. The Saudi G20 Presidency worked with the theme of “Realising Opportunities of the 21st Century for All”, and accorded special attention to discussing policies related to women, through engagement groups and various ministerial meetings. The Saudi leadership of G20 ensured the participation of women in decision-making by sharing recommendations of the Women 20 Engagement Group (W20) in the G20 meetings. A number of tailored initiatives such as the “Empowerment and Progression of Women’s Economic Representation” (EMPOWER) have been launched to tackle the challenges facing women.

Women empowerment will continue to be at the heart of our ongoing efforts to realise the Vision 2030 goals and to bring about a prosperous future for all.

The writer is Ambassador to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in India

This article was first published in Indian Express

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