Saudi Arabia is being held back by its failure to tap the female labour force, a recent study has warned.
The research – called 'Women’s Employment in Saudi Arabia: A Major Challenge' – reveals that only fifteen percent of the Saudi workforce is made up of women.
“Since women’s role within Saudi society has traditionally been that of wife and mother, the move toward greater female participation in the labor force has been met with skepticism, debate and even hostility,” said author Mona Al-Munajjed, a senior adviser with a local Booz & Company thinktank, the Ideation Centre.
“To this end, the Saudi government needs to ratify, enforce and implement legislation that promotes equal participation in the labour market, implement policies that create employment opportunities for women, and establish institutional mechanisms that promote women’s well being and success in the workforce.”
The report added that major reforms were needed – not only in Saudi Arabia but across the Arab world – if countries were to develop into full market economies.
Since 1992, the percentage of women participating in the Saudi workforce has nearly tripled from 5.4 percent to 14.4 percent, although this still compares dismally with the UAE rate of 59 percent.
Illiteracy is also a major barrier in rural communities, the research also indicated. According to UNESCO, in 2007, 20.6 percent of Saudi women over the age of 15 were illiterate, leaving a total of one million women completely unable to enter the labour market due to a lack of skills.
The public sector is by far the largest employer of Saudi women, who make up 30 percent of the workforce. Only five percent of Saudi working women are employed in the private sector, the report stated.
From a management perspective, the research note also claimed that less than one percent of decision-making posts are held by women.