Saudi women are pushing into the job market, becoming business executives, university professors, members of parliament and sportswomen. New laws are making it possible. Apart from clichés, what do we really know about women in Saudi Arabia?
Doors are opening: Saudi women are suddenly becoming business executives, university professors and members of parliament. Since February 2017, the Saudi stock exchange has had its first female chairperson, Sarah Al-Suhaimi. And then there's Dr. Reem Alfrayan: in her early 40s, married with four children, she received a doctorate in education in California before returning to Riyadh. Ten years ago, she as a woman would not have been allowed to enter the building of the Council of Saudi Chambers. Today she is its Assistant Secretary General and director of its businesswomen's division. Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud is both an entrepreneur with her own luxury department store in Riyadh and an official in the country's top sports federation. If a family has no sons, daughters can inherit large companies. And emancipation is filtering down into the middle classes as well. Education is the watchword. Saudi young women are pushing into the job market, and foreign companies are eager to hire them. "Female Saudi applicants are far fitter than their male competitors," says Thomas Dreiling from Thyssen-Krupp. Today, Saudi woman may also work as saleswomen or at supermarket checkouts. New laws and a new pragmatism in their application are making it possible. Companies are supposed to give their female employees their own 'compartment'. But, says Aljohara Almansour, personnel manager at Thyssen-Krupp, "Our office door is always open and we hold meetings together with the men." Saudi Arabia, whose state budget was in the red in 2015 for the first time in decades due to falling oil prices, can no longer afford to keep half the population shut up at home. The driving ban is already a thing of the past - but a more important goal for Saudi feminists is to do away with the system of male guardianship entirely.