Saudi women surge into job market as society opens
Like thousands of Saudi women, Rouaa al-Mousa joined the workplace as changes hit the ultra-conservative kingdom and it is clear that this will not be reversed by either grumbling male bosses or coronavirus.
Equipped with a college degree but bound by conservative Saudi attitudes against working women, the 25-year-old expected years to wait before finding an suitable job.
But Mousa graduated amid changes in the kingdom that saw women entering the labor market.
She got a job at a government institution in Riyadh working the evening shift as a receptionist — part of a mixed team of 10 women and six men.
And while the coronavirus has triggered a global recession and for now put Mousa in lockdown, she is optimistic that the long-term movement to bring women into the workplace is here to stay.
“I wanted to do my best during my studies so that I could get a job in academia afterwards, because that was the best option available for us. But big changes happened during the past four years,” she told AFP.
“Almost all of my friends are now working, and when one of them doesn’t get a job, it seems strange.”
Straitlaced Saudi society has provided few opportunities for women seeking a paying job for decades, and the few who found jobs were largely limited to the health and education sectors.
An patriarchal system of “guardianship” often gave male relatives the right to object to professional ambitions of the women.
But change came in the middle of 2016 when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced his “Dream 2030” strategy to diversify the economy of the kingdom and end its oil addiction.
The national blueprint supports the tourism and entertainment industries while opening the labor market doors wide to millions of women by removing the constraints that had limited them.