If any working mother in saudi arabia can advise the kingdom to boost female unemployment rates, it is Dr Basmah Mosleh Omair. The general manager of the Al Sayedah Khadijah Businesswomen Centre - which is part of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce - has helped paved the way to women’s business prominence in the Gulf’s most male-dominated society by restructuring the group to become a lobbying centre that focuses on legislation reform, removing economic and social obstacles facing women.
Omair believes that some of the biggest changes the Gulf state can make are to create and enforce regulations that allow working mothers to balance family life and a career.
Citing King Abdullah’s decision last year to enable women to participate in municipal elections in 2015 and become members of the consultative Shura Council together with directives that allow women to become board members and own their own real estate companies, she said key changes are being made to boost unemployment rates and encourage more female participation into the workplace.
But one of the biggest challenges that women in the kingdom face is not necessarily creating equality but giving working mothers the regulatory framework and opportunity to maintain a reasonable work/life balance, said Omair.
“A women’s first role will always be to take care of her family, if she has to choose between one or the other, she’ll chose her family,” she explained. “It’s about sustaining a woman’s employment and not just about employing her before she gets married and then when she has children she leaves. That’s not really providing her with an opportunity, that’s just a temporary solution,” she said.
The Saudi government must work together with the private sector to provide regulations that provide support to working mothers such as childcare, improved maternity leave and flexible working hours, she added.
“Opening the opportunity from the private sector is one point and the infrastructure is another, so it’s a dual partnership between the private sector and government sector.
“Opportunities must be provided for a balanced way of life. It doesn’t bring me joy to know about more job opportunities if they offer an unbalanced [job] that affects society and the children. Everyone needs to approach solving the problem from a balance perspective,” she said.