SAUDI ARABIA. Women are Taking the Center Stage

 A commercial bank in Saudi Arabia appointing a woman as a CEO; a woman becoming the dean of a renowned medical college; women and men attending the recent Comic Con event in Jeddah; Women-only gymnasiums gaining traction; celebration of first ever Women’s Day – Women in Saudi Arabia are well on their way to have similar rights as their male counterparts. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with a progressive leadership & a formative Vision 2030 document is fast becoming a society well in-sync with the developments of the rest of the world.

Human Rights International info portal Saudi ArabiaA traditional society with deep respect for its culture, values and its belief system, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has an innate regard for the role of women in society.

One the biggest development has been in the financial sector. The financial sector is considered notorious around the world for its blatant disregard for gender parity – but in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a lady has become the CEO of a commercial bank.

Also, most recently Dr. Dalal Moheealdin Namnaqani, the first Saudi woman was appointed as the dean of Taif University College of Medicine. Her appointment is seen as a big step in further inclusion of women in academia.

Saudi Arabia has made various changes over the last decade to liberalize the role of women in society. Prominent instances of this include adult franchise – enabling women to actively participate in the country’s political space, encouraging women to take a proactive role in the shaping of the economy, and taking legal measures to bring about an end to domestic violence – an endemic in many societies in the west.

A momentous occasion in the history of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia came when women were able to vote for the first time on December 13, 2015– a sign of progress. And not just vote, women could also participate in the entire process, projecting themselves as leaders.

A strong gender divide is prevalent across the world, but the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is taking giant strides in order to change the narrative of how women are held in society. The late King of Saudi Arabia King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was lauded for his role in expanding women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

Very recently, Saudi Arabia celebrated its first ever Women’s Day. It featured many a speaker who spoke on various issues around women empowerment in society. The event was also attended by Her Highness Princess Al-Jawhara bint Fahd Al Saud of the Royal family engaging in a nuanced discussion on the role of women in education.

20% of the seats in the advisory council that support the central government is allotted to women, and many a celebrated woman are already part of the council. In 2013, women became a formidable force in the Shura Council.

According to a report by McKinsey Global Institute, the economic profits of bridging the gender gap in Saudi Arabia has taken a positive turn. According to the report, it will eventually lead to a spike in their GDP by at least US $52 billion before 2025. Multiple steps have been taken to include women in the economic structure. This month, more than 10,000 Saudi women received technical training including ways to repair mobile phones – in an effort to improve their employment chances.

The Kingdom has also taken many a steps to ensure participation of women – including the introduction of a distance work scheme that allows women to work from home. Additionally, the Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Foundation (MiSK) recently launched an initiative to train women for leadership roles augmenting their management qualities which will eventually allow them to bring about positive influences at workplace.

In line with their ambitious social reform agenda ‘Vision 2030’, one of the goals of which is inclusion of women in the Saudi economy. Sarah Al-Suhaimi was appointed as the first ever women to chair the Saudi stock exchange along with Somayya Jabarti who will be the first ever woman to hold the rank of editor-in-chief in a Saudi news daily. To add to that, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labor and Social Development has revealed a national policy for female employment that will provide more than 50,000 outsourcing job opportunities.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also bringing about various initiatives in order to make it easy for women to have a social, a political and an economic voice – as per some report, a woman no longer requires the male guardian’s permission to work. Authorities have given incentives to employers who allocate certain positions for women. Moreover, the Kingdom is providing hundreds of academic scholarships for women to study – in Saudi Arabia and abroad.

This week, Saudi Arabia hosted its first ever Comic Con event where both, men and women came together to share their love for comics, and other variants of pop culture.

This year’s Al Janadriyah festival also discussed various issues that plague women from across the world. To highlight the importance of women in society, Alwaleed Philanthropies – chaired by His Royal highness Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud – collaborated with the festival to display videos showing the journey of women and their struggle. After criminalizing domestic abuse in 2013, the government has also established a center whose primary task is to receive and respond to reports of domestic violence.

Saudi Arabia has worked and is constantly working to ease the access of women to services. In a landmark move, the government will begin issuing licenses for women-only gyms from this month to promote health and fitness among women. With such enabling policies and initiatives, gender equality and empowerment are resonating well in Saudi Arabia.