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Empowerment of Women and Unemployment of Men
A Saudi woman worker making pastries in a market in Riyadh in 2010. (ILO/APEX)

Empowerment of Women and Unemployment of Men

Al-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, September 16

Some male citizens believe that the private and public sectors in Saudi Arabia have become inflated with the employment of women at the expense of men, which in their opinion, sooner or later, will cause a rise in unemployment rates among males. For example, a recent report issued by the General Authority for Statistics shows an increase in the unemployment rate for Saudi males from 7.1% in the fourth quarter of last year to 7.2% in the first quarter of 2021, while the unemployment rate among Saudi females decreased from 24.4% to 21.2% during the same period. It may be true, at first glance, that the unemployment rate among male citizens is high, especially when compared to the decrease in female unemployment. But at the same time, it must also be noted that overall female unemployment remains dramatically higher than that of male unemployment. Despite being given the opportunity to work, many women in the kingdom are still bound by outdated traditions and norms, while others struggle to find a job due to the decision of some businesses to only hire men. One of the most prominent goals of the kingdom’s Vision 2030 is to raise women’s contribution and participation in the labor market to 30% by 2030, which requires opening more work areas for women. The issue of women employment has received great attention from the Saudi government and, in particular, from the relevant authorities, including the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development and the Ministry of Commerce. These government efforts culminated in the kingdom achieving qualitative leaps in terms of empowering women and increasing their economic participation in the labor market. The economic participation rate for Saudi females age 15 years and over reached 33.5% by the end of 2020, while the rate of women’s participation in the labor market nearly doubled from 17% to 31.8%, exceeding the 2030 vision target to reach 30%. The percentage of women in middle and senior management positions reached 30% in the public and private sectors during the past year. Further, key indicators also show an increase in the percentage of Saudi women in the civil service to 41% by the end of 2020. Indeed, Saudi women – who constitute roughly half of Saudi society – have every right to enjoy equality in employment opportunities, including equal pay to their male counterparts. Yet, at the same time, I also see the importance of balancing the employment of men and women to avoid an adverse impact on our labor market. Instead of hiring by gender, Saudi employers should hire based on competence, qualifications and abilities. In doing so, we will avoid solving one problem by creating another one. – Talaat Hafez (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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