Saudi women empowerment: A failed project in the absence of strategy |
Arab News - 10 August, 2012
Author: Fatin Bundagji
For those of us who write on a multitude of national issues, getting caught up in the negatives of a topic is a common and understandable practice. Dictated by the confines of a narrow column, we are constantly torn between the need to focus on a specific point, and the need to present additional angles that shed light on diverse perspectives. Unfortunately in the world of print media and limited word counts, we do not have the luxury or the freedom to do both simultaneously.
Hence, a narrow column in itself cannot reveal the depth of any given topic, and in order to deliver a sound argument, most writers, including myself, tend to skim the surface of a trending topic worthy of exposure, after which we skillfully weave in certain facts, highlight specific angles, and conclude with rational assumptions that enable us to justify our argument to ourselves — and hopefully as well to our readers.
Once we’ve done our share as writers, the responsibility of conclusion falls onto the reader. All opinion writing is subjective, and therefore, it is the duty of the inquisitive and analytical reader to question and challenge what we write, to research and analyze our assumptions, and to come up with independent conclusions — that sometimes are at par with ours, yet oftentimes, not. You see, our job, as writers is to responsibly and methodologically trigger thought, engage dialogue, and jumpstart action: and diverse responsible opinion is not a bad thing and we should embrace that.
Today I would like to broach a topic which cannot be argued fully in this article simply because it has not yet been argued fully by the public or by decision-makers. I am talking about a subject that has engaged our national attention for some time now. It is a subject that has triggered serious controversy and if left to the mercy of the general public, it will bring about a devastating chronic economic downfall. All I hope to do today in this brief article is to trigger thought; to engage dialogue; and hopefully to jumpstart serious action that will end this debate once and for all. The subject I am referring to is the burning issue of Saudi Women Empowerment.
However, before going on, I wish to clarify a couple of points. You see, the issue of women empowerment is not Saudi specific. Women worldwide have suffered and continue to suffer great injustices. If this wasn’t the case then why would almost all of the eight Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations have “women” as their primary target? Having said that I want to also point out that the issue of women empowerment is in fact Saudi specific — for without an actionable national strategy to enable the advancement of Saudi women as citizens with independent rights, Saudi Arabia will never take its rightful place as a regional or a global leader.
Allow me to explain a case in point: Saudi women’s employment. You see, today in 2012, Saudi women have come a long way from back in the ‘50s, but not long enough to have created measurable impact on our Nation’s development. For a demographic makeup that constitutes more than 50 percent of our national population, we only occupy less than 15 percent of our national workforce. In economic terms, this discrepancy places Saudi Arabia in the list of firsts in dependency ratios meaning that for every one Saudi worker there are around 6 dependents — Whereas globally, the standard ratio for dependency is 2 to 1.
If we chose continue with business as usual in this matter, we will definitely be heading toward economic disaster. With more than one third of our national workforce being of foreign origin, we often ask ourselves why Saudi women’s unemployment general is so high.
The answer to such a complex question is not easy but at its core it boils down to this: With the rapid population growth we are witnessing due to better life expectancy and infant survival rates; with educated women graduating annually by the hundreds of thousands but still unable to secure basic jobs; with inflexible regulations blocking women’s employment and overstaffed government jobs; with rigid investment regulations and the list goes on… the only hope in sight lays in our ability to mastermind a national development strategy that focuses on women’s empowerment policies and mechanisms starting from the stages of childhood, leading into adulthood and employment and ending at the final stage of retirement.
As a strong advocate for empowerment of all kinds, especially the empowerment of women, I believe that any form of empowerment must have at its core the prerequisite of civic empowerment. Hence for us women, until the time when we are given equal rights as citizens of our country, and obliged by the same responsibilities that are imposed on our brethren, then we will never be able to “strategically” move forward as a nation to bring about the genuine reforms we desperately need.