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Thu 8 Aug 2019 09:49 AM

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Video: Saudi Guardianship System - how will women's participation in the workforce affect the economy?

Women over the age of 21 can now obtain passports and leave the country without the permission of their male guardian.

This might not mean much for most of you, but for the women in Saudi Arabia, this is a big deal.

Saudi Arabia’s Council of Ministers approved a royal decree last week that would loosen some of the restrictions placed on women under the guise of “guardianship laws”

What is this guardianship system or wilayah as they’re called?

They are basically a network of regulations on the movements and behavior of women that required them to seek the permission or accompaniment of a close male relative in matters of work, leisure, finances, law, and health.

To be honest, it feels weird saying it, but hooray, women can now travel abroad, obtain passports, and just move around without a male relative’s permission – which wasn’t the case before this law amendment.

They get some other basic rights too:

  • Women will now receive standard employment discrimination protections
  • They now also have the right to register the births of their children, live apart from their husbands, and obtain family records
  • And a woman can now register as a co-head of household, along with her husband

But this doesn’t mean that the guardianship system has been ended completely.

A woman still needs a male relative’s permission when it comes to marriage or divorce, to leave prison or domestic violence refuges.

There are some other things too. Women still cannot pass on citizenship to their children and cannot provide consent for their children to marry.

All of this is particularly important for Saudi and MBS’ reputation as a reformer. In recent months, several young women have fled the country and made public pleas for help in seeking asylum from their family and the government.

Last year, authorities arrested many of the country’s most prominent female campaigners in a sweeping crackdown on activists.

These guardianship changes, like the lifting of the ban on women’s driving last year, form part of the crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s promise to modernise the kingdom.

“Vision 2030” plan calls for a rise in women’s participation in the workplace, from 22% to 30%.

Currently, women’s participation in the workforce is merely 20.1 per cent and represents only 18 per cent of the female working age population. The youth unemployment rate is 31.2 per cent, while the female youth unemployment rate is a staggering 58.1 per cent, despite Saudi female educational attainment exceeding that of males.

A lot of experts have explained how the involvement of women can accelerate economic growth by increasing mobility across sectors and just sheer manpower utilisation.

Research from the McKinsey Global Institute finds an enormous commercial benefit to increasing the female participation rates in MENA workforces.  If until 2025, each country in the region was to match the momentum of the country with the fastest-growing increase in the percentage of females in the workforce, McKinsey estimates it would add $ 600 billion each year to the MENA economy.

So if the women are given their basic rights, they can become more of an active part of the job market, which in turn will benefit the economy and that is what all countries want. What we need to see if these outdated laws and systems are completely abolished making Saudi a country that is granting higher levels of human right to its citizens and residents any time soon and if all of these reforms translate directly to economic growth in the near future.

(Source: Arabianbusiness.com YouTube channel)