A Look at Women's Empowerment in Saudi Arabia for International Women's Day
As we celebrate International Women’s Day on Monday, March 8, 2021, it’s important to reflect on how we can each raise awareness of women’s issues and combat prejudices within our communities. This year, the International Women’s Day theme is “Choose to Challenge.” By staying focused on women’s issues, we all have the opportunity to challenge those issues and create change.
Here in Greater Des Moines (DSM), citizens continue to make women a priority, as seen through efforts such as Mentoring for Women events, FemCity Des Moines connections, Junior League of Des Moines volunteer opportunities, entrepreneurial development through National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and others. It’s easy to find ways to challenge issues and make change in the DSM community.
Efforts in Saudi Arabia
But what about in places outside of Iowa and the U.S.? In Saudi Arabia, a country that continues to strengthen its ties to Iowa’s agriculture sector, women are being extended more rights than ever before. From implementing new laws and renewing commitments to invest in women, Saudi Arabia plans to move forward with Vision 2030. While women are currently just 22% of the Saudi workforce — with 596,700 Saudi women working, the highest female employment rate in the country yet — the goal is to increase that rate to 30% by 2030.
At this time, more than 40% of Saudi entrepreneurs are women and more than half of those enrolled in Saudi schools and universities are women. Female youth can now look to many women in top leadership positions as role models, including Saudi Arabia’s first woman ambassador to the U.S., Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who has been an advocate for women’s empowerment for years and who spoke at a July 2020 Greater Des Moines Partnership event where she discussed how she has addressed the pandemic and oil stabilization efforts as a global leader.
In a recent article for Harper’s Bazaar Saudi Arabia, Princess Reema shares her thoughts on women being elected to leadership roles to make a difference for their countries, citing the U.S.’s first female vice president, Kamala Harris. In an article for Vogue Arabia, she discusses her country’s progress in further detail, highlighting how a social transformation is taking place as barriers for women are broken down and replaced with new opportunities in both everyday life and career. But Princess Reema isn’t the only female making an impact on the world, there are many Saudi women making huge strides by advocating for women in tech, science, sports, fashion and many other industries.
Not only will Vision 2030 work to increase the number of women in the workforce, but improvements in other areas continue to be implemented as well. So far, this has included changes such as women:
Serving in military positions
- Driving cars
- Traveling/Working/Making financial decisions without a guardian
- Claiming their place of residency
- Gaining custody of children in the event of divorce
According to the Women, Business and Law 2020 Report by World Bank Group, the largest improvement in the index since 2017 was made by Saudi Arabia, with improvements in mobility and bodily autonomy. Improvements like making sexual harassment illegal in the employment sector, legally protecting pregnant employees from discrimination and mandating equal pay to Saudi women have empowered Saudi women and will continue to do so.
As we recognize women today, we acknowledge the great strides Saudi Arabia has taken in creating an empowered society that includes women in leadership positions to move the country forward.
Through the Global DSM initiative, the Greater Des Moines Partnership works to establish Greater Des Moines (DSM) as a global community by bolstering global trade and foreign investments and leveraging international talent.