The Saudi government must work together with the private sector to provide regulations that allow working mothers a reasonable work/life balance to reduce rising female unemployment, the head of Al Sayedah Khadijah Businesswomen Centre has said.
More than 80 percent of citizens in Saudi Arabia receiving unemployment benefit are women, according to official data. But numbers are unlikely to improve unless more is done to encourage females to work in the private sector, said Basmah Mosleh Omair.
“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,” she said at the Arabian Business Women’s Forum 2012.
Regulations to ensure working mothers are given support such as childcare and flexible working hours must be enforced, she added.
“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.
Saudi women account for around seven percent of nationals employed by private sector companies but account for the majority of the one million claiming unemployment benefit on the Gulf state’s “Hafiz” programme, a Labour Ministry official said last year.
In Saudi Arabia, where gender segregation is strictly enforced and women need permission from a close male to work and travel, employment has traditionally been seen as an all-male preserve but the government is pushing for more women to enter the job market.
Authorities in the kingdom in January began enforcing a law that allows only females to work in lingerie and clothing stores, a second stab at enforcing a ruling originally rolled out in 2006. The Labour Ministry in January said more than 28,000 women had applied for the jobs.
Enabling women to participate in municipal elections in 2015 and become members of the consultative Shura Council coupled with directives that allow women to become board members and own their own real estate companies have all helped encourage more Saudi women to work, said Omair.
Flexible working hours, allowing women to work from home and better maternity leave are the key to ensuring female employees remain in the workplace after children, she said. “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 said.
“It’s about sustaining a women’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.”