Saudi Arabia leading the way when it comes to including women in labor force

by Aya Salah Ed-din

According to a top executive at the World Bank, no country in the world has been able to match the impressive growth rate in female labor force participation achieved by Saudi Arabia.

Safaa El-Kogali, the country director for the Gulf Cooperation Council at the World Bank, recently spoke to Arab News and highlighted that the percentage of women in the Kingdom’s workforce has grown from just over 17 percent in 2017 to 36 percent.

 She attributed this growth to structural changes made as part of the Vision 2030 initiative, which aims to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil.

El-Kogali emphasized that legal reforms have been instrumental in removing barriers to women’s participation in the labor market. These legal reforms have also contributed to a broader shift in societal perceptions and norms regarding the importance of female participation in the labor market. According to a World Bank report released on Nov. 22, the COVID-19 pandemic created a positive demand shock that accelerated the number of women in work in Saudi Arabia.

The structural changes introduced through Vision 2030 include policy reforms removing challenges for women, providing increased workplace protection, and introducing programs supporting females in their careers.

“For the rest of the GCC and MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, important lessons can be drawn on advancing female labor force participation,” the report said.

El-Kogali pointed out the important role education is playing in ensuring women are able to meet the demand in the Kingdom’s fast developing economy.

“When I say the train has left the station, I see the shift in social norms and perceptions. I used to come to Saudi Arabia a few years ago and coming now I see the changes just visibly as I walk around Riyadh,” she continued.

Overall, the private sector workforce in Saudi Arabia has experienced consistent growth, reaching 2.6 million in the early months of 2023, according to the World Bank report.

This expansion aligns with broader trends of increased participation in the labor force, a higher employment-to-population ratio, and a reduction in unemployment rates.

The structural changes introduced through Vision 2030 include policy reforms removing challenges for women, providing increased workplace protection, and the introduction of programs supporting females in their careers.

“Many impediments for women to work were removed. At the same time, new protections, like the right to equal pay, and many new programs to support women in the workforce were implemented including, labor law reforms to eliminate discrimination in employment, sexual harassment in the workplace,” El-Kogali commented

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