Women in Society
Saudi women are active participants in the development of their country and this has a direct and positive impact on the whole of society when it comes to providing citizens with a decent life.
Saudi government policy treats women as partners with men, who also have certain rights and obligations provided for them under Islamic Sharia law. In addition, Article 8 of the Basic Law of Governance states that “governance in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is based on justice, Shura and equality, according to the Islamic Sharia”.
Many decisions have been issued, covering all aspects life. Some directly support the role of women in society, while others have focused on ensuring that the organization of governmental and non-governmental organizations creates opportunities for working women. As a result, Saudi women now assume senior public positions and are major partners at numerous private institutions and civil society organizations, amongst them chambers of commerce, literary clubs and social service societies.
As part of the Vision 2030 plan, Saudi Arabia aims to increase women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30%.
The sections below shed further light on the role women already play in all aspects of Saudi society.
Beginning with the country’s founder, HRH Abdul Aziz Al Saud, the rule of successive kings has lent notable support to providing educational opportunities for Saudi women, whether within or outside the Kingdom, especially through the King Abdullah Scholarship Program.
In 2008, the foundation stone of the first integrated public university for women in the Kingdom, the Princess Noura Bint Abdul Rahman University, was laid. In 2009, Her Excellency was appointed Deputy Minister of Education for Girls, becoming the first Saudi woman to assume the position.
It is the policy of the Ministry of Education to place women in senior educational positions through the new organisational structure and the Ministry has created a series of deanships under the segregation of duties in order to facilitate this work, identify responsibilities, and ensure timely processing. As a result, 5 women deans have been appointed leading positions at the Girls College Agency, which oversees 102 colleges nationwide.
Military and Diplomacy
Female divisions have been established in the Military, in the departments associated with overseeing passports, prisons, civil defense, and firefighting. Moreover, a number of Saudi women have been appointed to the diplomatic corps, some of who work at embassies in Canada and the United States. Women are represented in most official Saudi delegations abroad.
Saudi women have made qualitative strides towards political participation. In 2005, 6 part-time consultants were appointed to the Shura Council. This number was increased to 12, without voting rights, in 2006. The late Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, HRH King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz- announced in 2011 the appointment of the first-ever female member of the Shura Council and granted women voting and candidacy rights in municipal elections. Consequently, Saudi women are now engaged in the political decision-making process.
On December 12th, 2014, a royal decree was issued giving women full membership rights of the Shura Council and allocating to them a minimum quota of 20 percent of the seats. Currently, 30 out of the 150 members of the Shura Council are women. Women have also been allowed to participate as voters and candidates in municipal elections since 2015.
One of the most notable female Shura council members is Thuraya Obaid, a veteran U.N. administrator who served as executive director of the U.N. Development Program and undersecretary general of the world body.
The year 2004 marked the first participation of Saudi women in the board elections of chambers of commerce. Qualitative strides have since been made and a woman has subsequently served as vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Women in Work
In 2010, a royal decree was issued approving a detailed timetable of short and long-term solutions to address the issue of increasing the number of female university graduates. The decree stipulated that the Ministry of Labour take the necessary measures to implement the decision.
As a result, the Ministry of Labour issued 3 ministerial decisions regulating the work of women in women’s supply stores, set the conditions for employing women in factories and put in place a mechanism related to distance-working for women, as part of the national Saudization program.
In its 2010-2014 Report, the Ministry of Planning developed a set of policies aimed at enhancing actual participation of women in the workforce, mainly by the creation within a year of a women’s division at every public institution, in order to employ women and process women’s applications.
Civil Status and Legal Affairs
In 2000, the Ministry of Social Affairs launched the first official campaign against domestic violence to introduce society to the issue, to the risks related to domestic violence, and to ways of preventing it from happening. In 2007, a royal decree was issued to establish courts for domestic violence. In the same year, the Ministry of Justice issued a ruling permitting female lawyers to provide legal consultations and licensing them for work in private offices. In 2009, the first batch of female students, 49 in all, graduated from the Faculty of Law and Political Sciences. In addition, the first women’s charitable society was established, along with the first Saudi incubator for women lawyers.
Medicine and Science
Saudi women have played a prominent role in the fields of medicine and science and been responsible for a number of notable inventions. In 2010, Dr. Khawlah Bint Sami Al Enizi, Senior Cancer Researcher at the King Faisal Specialized Hospital, was awarded the King Abdul Aziz Award (First Class) in recognition for her research. The same year, Dr. Arwa Al Sayed was awarded King Abdul Aziz Award (First Class), in recognition of her effort in discovering gene polymorphism in drug-induced gingival hyperplasia.
Saudi women are active participants in National Dialogue events, fora, workshops and training sessions, as well as in encouraging a culture of dialogue in the family, and society at large.
Saudi women are engaged in organized activities through voluntary women’s societies aimed at providing care and education for women. The number of women’s charity societies is on the rise. Some organizations are independent, while others report to the women’s supervision offices of the Ministry of Social Affairs, nationwide.