Saudi Arabian businesswoman Lubna Olayan has been on Fortune magazine’s “Global Power 50 Women” list from 2004 to 2009. Forbes included her on its “World’s Most Powerful Women” lists in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2011, and Time Magazine listed her amongst the “Top 100 Most Influential People in the World” in 2005.
Lubna Olayan and the Saudi Arabian women who work for Prince Alwaleed are just a few examples of capable and successful women in the Kingdom. Arabian Business Magazine has compiled a list of the most powerful Saudi women that you will find interesting. And that’s just a few. There are more of them but they usually keep a low profile.
Saudi women sitting on $11,9 billion
A large portion of the Kingdom’s wealth belong to its women who are believed to be sitting on cash totaling $11.9 billion. They are in other words controlling a substantial portion of the country’s wealth.
Women constitute almost 45 percent of the population and have a literacy rate of 79 percent. But only 65 percent of them are employed, despite the fact that 78.3 percent of unemployed women are university graduates.
Women in Saudi Arabia hence account for a substantial pool of human and financial capital with the power and ability to bring about significant social and economic change. It is hence beneficial to the kingdom to give them the same opportunities their sisters enjoy in other Arab nations, which is currently taking place.
King Abdullah championed women’s rights
Women are allowed to vote, and may also run as candidates in elections without the consent of their male guardian. Needless to say this is a huge step forward.
“We are witnessing a rapid and increased investment in our country’s human resources and economic development,” says Princess Adelah bint Abdullah, King Abdullah’s daughter. “Fundamental to this is regulations that encourage greater involvement of women in our work force. The impact of this support can be seen through the growth, productivity and innovation of Saudi Arabia’s women-owned businesses.
The princess explains that Saudi law already permits women to run a business without the guardianship of a man, but added, “Often this law is not enforced. Some people in the government prevent its implementation. They either do not know about it or are opposed to it.
On the mixing of men and women, Princess Adelah added: “I do not see why men and women should not maintain respectful relations in the workplace, as they do in hospitals or during pilgrimage to Mecca. It will come gradually, once people become accustomed to it and laws against harassment are passed.”
Female entrepreneurs on the rise
Women in Sweden are still not being paid as much as a man carrying out the same job ,despite the fact that women have been allowed to vote since 1919. So things are actually moving faster for Saudi women at the moment. Considering that I’m the only Western woman ever who have held a senior management position in a 100% Saudi owned company in Riyadh, I feel a bit like I paved the way for the future, almost like“a Mrs Pankhurst of Saudi Arabia”. Would be delighted to see more female Saudi entrepreneurs build up successful companies and get executive positions of their choice.
Know a lot of capable Saudi women, not least my friend Lubna Hussain that had her own talk show on Saudi Television already in 2008. Should be noted here that in the US Barbara Walters wasn’t allowed to be more than a co-host of a TV show until the 1980s.
Positive changes are coming for Saudi women and it will not take as long as it did in the West. There are plenty of capable women in the Kingdom and they will make a positive contribution to the development and diversification of Saudi Arabia. Not only will they work very well, channeling their huge funds into enterprises and investment activities will earn profitable returns as well as boost money supply.
King Abdullah wanted to expand women’s role as active members of society and workforce. So let’s hope King Salman will follow in his footsteps and enable Saudi women as a whole to personify the late king’s vision of capable women bringing honor to the family. Will we see more women, like Lubna Olayan, leading Saudi businesses say, ten years from now? Or do you believe it will take longer?
(photo: World Economic Forum – Flickr)