Incredible Increase in the Employment Rate of Women in Saudi Arabia

Hessa Alajaji, the first employee of the Saudi tourism department to drive to the center of Riyadh

Surveys show that the number of employed women in Saudi Arabia has increased rapidly in recent years. While at the end of 2018 only about 20 percent of Saudi adult women were employed or looking for work, by the end of 2020, the percentage of employed women in the total workforce had reached 33 percent. This means that the share of Saudi women in the labor market has increased by 64% in just two years, which is an incredible statistic. The important point is that this increase in women’s employment was not in public sector, but mostly in the private sector.

“The important point is that this increase in women’s employment was not in public sector, but mostly in the private sector”.

Accordingly, women’s employment in the residential and food industries shows a growth of 40%, and this statistic has grown by an average of 9 % and 14% in the construction and manufacturing sectors. Employment of women in wholesale and retail has also increased by 5%.

No clear reason can be given for explaining this dramatic change, but the potential impact of many recent government reforms should not be ignored. As part of the Saudi Vision 2030 plan to diversify the country’s economy, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has taken the initiative to change Saudi Arabia’s economic and social laws. One of the goals of this program is to increase women’s participation in the labor force by 30%; A goal that has now been achieved.

The Saudi government lifted a long-term ban on women driving in 2018 and ended gender segregation in restaurants in December 2019. These reforms seem to have positive effect on country’s conservative laws regarding guardianship, work and family. Saudi women still need the approval of a male guardian to marry, to get released from prison, or receive sexual or reproductive health care. Human Rights Watch has called the country’s recent reforms “incomplete.” But the first steps taken in this direction seem to have been very effective.

Freelance Middle East Analyst and Researcher