Saudi Arabia's Women Are Its Untapped Economic Resource |

Saudi Arabia's Women Are Its Untapped Economic Resource

Restrictive laws hinder women from fully participating in the work force and thus affecting the country’s economy. Here's why.

Posted on

22 January 2017

Last updated on 20 June 2017
Saudi Arabia's Women Are Its Untapped Economic Resource

Saudi Arabia is no stranger to controversial, strict laws when it comes to females. There are many restrictive rules, most notably the no driving ban and male guardianship laws.

However, there is a broader issue that encompasses these two, which is how these restrictive laws hinder women from fully participating in the workforce and thus affecting the country’s economy.

Woman on laptop

Currently, the country is struggling and looking for ways to increase its revenue, such as implementing a general value-added tax (VAT), but they have an existing resource that they've yet to utilise - Women. 

Gender gap

Women in the Kingdom are what economists would call a “neglected resource.” Female employees would normally cost a business less than their male counterparts whilst they work twice a hard. Since there are much fewer jobs available to women, it’s normal to feel like they have to work twice as hard to prove themselves if they are one of the lucky few who land a job. And when there aren’t many options, accepting a lower pay just becomes the norm. 

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According to the 2016 Labour Force Survery by the Central Department of Statistics and Information, the female labour participation rate in Saudi Arabia is around 16%, which is quite low. A report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that should countries in the MENA region minimise this gender gap in the workforce by 20% over five years, the region’s GDP could grow by US$415 billion. Considering Saudi Arabia’s economy amounts to about 20 per cent of the region’s GDP, reducing the female gap could increase its GDP by US$80-100 billion.

Limited types of jobs for women

As of late, the Saudi government has put in some efforts in improving all this in their Vision 2030 plan. The plan aims to raise female employment to 30 per cent. However, the most likely scenario is that attaining that extra 14% will be done through increasing lower-paid and retails jobs for women, whilst not providing much progress for highly educated women who would want higher-paid work.

Female retail employees

It’s already the case – if a woman was to look for a shop clerk job, she would find many job offers without any hassle. But when it comes to well-educated women, it’s the complete opposite. Women make up 69% of all graduates and 76% of them are unemployed.

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There are over 150,000 Saudis studying abroad, with half of them doing so in the United States, and one third of them are women. But returning home afterwards proves to be difficult for most because they have aquired a lot knowledge and skills but they're unable to use them.  

Difficulty in hiring women

The strict conservative laws also don’t make it easier for companies to hire women. Simply because they would need to create a separate office or working area, separate break rooms and separate entrances at the very least to be able to accommodate female employees.

SEE ALSO: 6 Saudis who pushed for change in 2016

When women can’t drive, can’t have too much interactions with men, can’t work most jobs and can’t travel or work without permission, it becomes a lot more difficult for them to do much that would benefit the economy. Putting the important issues of rights and freedoms aside, it is more effective to talk about economic gains and necessities in this region. Opening the doors for more women to work is not only a step forward, but would help the country immensely.