Saudi Arabia Orders Factories To Hire More Female Workers

Article Summary
Saudi Arabia is infamous for its restrictions on women, but the Saudi Ministry of Labor has recently made female recruitment obligatory in certain sectors, namely factories and women’s accessories shops. Female employees throughout the Kingdom laud this decision as a major step forward. Rahmah Dhiyab reports.

The Saudi Ministry of Labor has initiated a program which makes it compulsory for factories to employ women, to be implemented over a period of several months. This decision came after women had been successfully recruited in pharmaceutical factories and shops that sell women’s accessories. The ministry is also conducting a review the minimum wage. Notably, the Saudi National Unemployment Assistance Program (Hafiz) has helped raise the salaries of Saudis. According to statistics, 80% of the program’s applicants are women.

Ruqayah al-Abdallah, director of the women's department at Hafiz, said that all factories in the country have been accounted for, in coordination with the Council of Saudi Chambers. Now, a plan of action and a timetable are being devised in order to "feminize” and “Saudize” the nation’s factories. These factories will be obligated to hire Saudi women after they receive the necessary training; this is already the case for women’s stores, she explained. Al-Abdallah has also been coordinating with the General Organization for Technical Education & Vocational Training (GOTEVOT) to expand on existing programs at higher technical institutes for girls, and she said that two programs for electronics and food manufacturing will be launched this year.

In her statement to Al-Hayat, Al-Abdallah said that this decision is a major step forward for female recruitment. She noted that they will start seeing results by next year, which will curb the current unemployment rate. In the “Women's Work Week: New Horizons” seminar, organized by the “East Room,” Al-Abdallah announced that two new recruitment offices — in addition to the five existing offices — will be opened over the next five months to provide services for potential employees of both sexes. She said that women account for almost half of society, as they constitute approximately 49.1% of the population, according to the Central Department of Statistics. Al-Abdallah discussed the Ministry of Labor’s recent strategies and initiatives, namely their strategy to increase women's participation in the private sector over the short term by creating incentives, like full-time recruitment and promotions, and "feminizing" several professions. A joint team which includes the Ministry of Labor, GOTEVOT and the Human Resources Development Fund, has been formed to facilitate the coordination of activities that support the female-empowerment program.

Al-Abdallah also discussed long-term strategies for increasing women's participation in the private sector, and said that a field study will be conducted in order to involve all relevant parties. She added that the ministry will also make its website available, in order to reduce the problems that occur after recruitment, like “professional migration.”

Female businesswomen used to complain about the professional migration of Saudi women, and demanded insurance benefits. Al-Abdallah addressed this issue, saying that “after a series of complaints about professional migration and lack of ministerial coordination, we admit that mistakes have been made at the Ministry of Labor. We do not deny that.” On working from home, Al-Abdallah said that special legislation will be created in coordination with the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Social Affairs, who are holding workshops in preparation for this legislation.

Samira al-Suwaigh, head of the executive board of “Businesswomen,” said that the “Women’s Work Week” seminar continues to empower women, to reflect the goals that women have achieved and to support this golden opportunity for women during a time of non-stop progress. She underlined the need to support all women who have started new professions, to make opportunities available for businesswomen in order to contribute to the development process and to take advantage of these historical opportunities in order to keep up with change.


Abdallah pointed out that there are 5.9 million Saudi women who are of working age (15 years and over), and 700,000 of them are currently employed. The female labor force makes up about 16.5% of the total Saudi labor force. Saudi women in the labor force fall under two categories: the employed, who amount to roughly 505,000 workers, and the unemployed, numbering approximately 200,000.

According to the Ministry of Civil Service’s statistics for the fiscal year 2008, there are 311,000 women working in the government sector, 275,000 of whom are Saudi nationals.

Women make up 35% of workers in the government sector, which totals approximately 900,000 male and female employees, 31% of whom are citizens. There are around 137,000 workers in private enterprises, which accounts for 2% of the total workforce; 48,000 of them are Saudi nationals.

The Saudi Central Department of Statistics and Information’s figures for 2009 indicate that the overall rate of unemployment in the country stands at 10.5%, with 6.9% of males and 28.4% of females being unemployed.

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