Saudi women – a force to be reckoned with!

saudi women, lubna olayan,

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.

Several Saudi women are executives at Prince Alwaleed’s Kingdom Holding Company. The Prince has long been a champion of Saudi Arabian women and even has a female Saudi pilot.

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?

Picture: World Economic Forum 

102 thoughts on “Saudi women – a force to be reckoned with!

  1. Better late than never. It's nice to know women are being taken seriously in Arab countries. The accomplishments of women should be highlighted more in the media. This will make the citizens more aware of women rights and enable many females to come forward in the society.

    1. Yes it is isn't it. But it isn't that easy when it comes to Saudi Arabia because all women have guardians and can't do anything without his approval. Successful ordinary Saudi women hence keep a low profile.

  2. It's good to see that Saudi women are breaking barriers and becoming so successful in business. However, the prohibition against driving makes it difficult for the average woman (not the superstars) to pursue a career. If her husband or brother won't drive her to work and there is no public transportation available, then relaxing other rules will not be helpful to her.

    1. Glad you agree with me, Jeannette. But let's not focus on the driving issue. Imagine if over night 10-15 million women were allowed to drive in a county with no driving licences…Saudi women from all wallks of life manage to get to work. When there's a will there's a way.

  3. I was just reading an article that announced 80,000 new job opportunities for women in Saudi Arabia. It seems the Saudi Ministry of Labour wants to increase female participation in the workforce. It looks like change is happening now.

  4. I believe with the right mentors and opportunities, more Saudi Arabian women can make it to the top. It only takes one to show the others that it can be done, if you position yourself well and stay committed.

    Encouraging and inspiring post!

  5. oh wow! I love this post.
    Way to go Saudi Women, Its uplifting to know that Saudi Arabian women are making their mark.
    Long may it continue.

  6. Catarina, I love reading your posts about Saudi Arabia. They are so different from what we believe here and with those women making such great strides, it’s great that we are being updated as to what is actually happening.
    I found it interesting that women are now allowed to run as candidates in elections or have a business without the consent of their male guardian. Needing the consent of their male guardian is more in line with what we think – knowing that is changing is wonderful and can only be a positive step forward, not just in Saudi Arabia but will spread to the entire area.

  7. I think there are always people who will fight against change, especially when it comes to people having rights that they didn’t have before. We’ve experienced that recently in the US with gay people having new rights and people objecting and refusing to recognize those riots. I think the first generation or so that have those rights are the pioneers and hopefully it gets easier as time passes. Glad to hear that Saudi women are making strides.

  8. This is an interesting post. We don't hear a whole lot about this in the western media, nor in the business press. Instead we only hear about negative attitudes and suppression of women in the Middle East. I certainly hope this progress continues and that the story in told to a broader audience.

  9. It will be fascinating to see what will happen. There are so many conflicting forces going on there dealing with the rights of woman.
    I hope that, as it was said, the Saudi's are catching up with the rest of the world. I hope that the more hard lined people in the area do not influence this move and cause a setback to woman.

    1. Have you ever lived, worked and integrated in Saudi Arabia, William? If so, you know that there are plenty of successful women. They just don't advertise it. And women control more money than men. At the moment the religious have more power than they used to because of the situation in the region. King Salman is not healthy so it's possible that he will not be the head of state that long. Women are voting in the next election coming up soon. And, maybe most important, women in KSA control more money than men.

  10. This is an empowering story about focus, purpose and resilience. The part of this story that resonates for me is how the Saudi women don’t allow themselves to get distracted by what hasn’t changed for them. They stay on course. Keeping focus on themselves and what they can control. I think in the US we tend to get distracted by, “what isn’t working”, which changes focus and isn’t empowering it’s saying, “YOU need to fix this”.

    1. When I lived in Saudi Arabia I used to tell my female Saudi friends that in Sweden men and women are equal by law. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the only thing that's happened since 1986 is that women are now allowed to be dog handlers. Women are still paid less and so forth and we definitely should force our politicians to do something about this. It's lamentable that it's all talk and not much is done. Having said that I wish to stress that I don't get distracted by that but instead vote for policiticians that want to improve the situation. By the way, I have achieved more than the majority of women in the world so I don't feel any need to do anything. But that could easily change because of the amount of refugees we are getting in Europe now. Those women frequently walk behind their husband and are subservient to them in many ways. Just like poor women in the Middle East. So maybe I will need to start a movement of some sort.

  11. This has certainly encouraged me
    Saudi Arabian women are making their mark, thus paving the way for future generations.

  12. Catarina — Women in the U.S. are also paid less than men in the same roles, so the problem is global. It pains me to see the Taliban, for example, rolling back the small gains women made after the fall of Hussein. They burned down the schools and young girls had to retreat to their homes. I'm afraid equality for women is a goal that won't be reached in my lifetime.

  13. Thank you for this encouraging update on Saudi women. I hope that progress does move faster there than in the west. Amazing that Lubna Hussain had her own talk show in 2008 and I bet she would be a wonderful woman to know. And that Lubna Olayan was rated so highly among powerful women.

  14. It’s nice to read that positive changes are coming for Saudi women. It may take some time for attitudes to change so that government officials stop preventing implementation, but it sounds as if that time may go quicker than in the west. There are still some issues with attitudes toward women’s rights in the west. Your experience in a senior position at a Saudi company must have been interesting. And perhaps somewhat difficult at times?

    1. Yes, it's great that slowly Saudi women are getting what we take for granted, isn't it Donna. Most likely the pace will be slower at the moment because of the current problems in the region. But they will catch up with us.

  15. Interesting post Catarina – it is difficult to get a clear picture sometimes of women's roles in middle Eastern countries, especially when there's a regime change. However, as this isn't the case in SA, it seems as if they really have moved into the 21st century, at least in some respects. very surprised women can have their own businesses as that has real potential for giving financial independance
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  16. Very enligtening post! It's easy to forget the stuggle of women in business here in the US, where things are so vastly different. Of course you paved the way, opened some doors! Nobody could be surprised at that! But I think other developed nations have a bit less struggle, as the dogma of their politics is less tied to the dogma of their reliogious faith. For that reason, I think they may be bit slower to get there, but they will get there. I enjoyed this immensely!

    1. Thank you, Jacqueline. Saudi is the most difficult country in the world for women. I didn't open doors for them, just proved that it's possible even for a Western woman. They will definitely succeed because they passionately want to.

  17. Its interesting how these countries (which are labeled as backwards and oppressed in America) are actually making strides for women equality. Its true that in America, women still get paid less. 70 cents for every dollar a man makes. And then Black men and Black women make less for every dollar a White man/woman makes. One step forward, two steps back. Let's hope the Saudis can walk in a straight line.
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    1. Yes, isn't it interesting how people all over the world look down at other countries without even knowing what's going on there. The majority of people in the world only know one thing about Saudi women – that they are not allowed to drive.

      1. Plus now equal pay for women has been in the news a lot in the US. A woman here makes something like 82 or 84 cents to the dollar that a man makes, so that means working forty more days a year to essentially make the same pay.

        1. Yes, Jeri, it's lamentable how unequal the West still is. In Europe there is talk to legislate to get 50% of board members to be women. And when it comes to payment we have the same problem. The worst sector is financial companies but not even the public sector pay women as much as men.

  18. Everything is a process. It took a very long time to see serious progress and an affect in the US without the religious undertones. So I would expect that just as it is/was with the US so will it be for the Saudi women and the needed cultural changes to see a firm change. That said, it will take many many years.
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    1. Yes Susan. Rome wasn't built in a day. But it will be swifter in Saudi than it was in the US and Europe. Why? Partly because of the internet and how Saudi women study abroad. But not least since they passionately want to succeed and that may be the most important aspect.

    1. That's true Cassi. Teenage Saudi girls used to come up to me and ask why I wanted to be in their country. Many of them go to Harvard and other top universities to study. They will not put up with being second rate citizens.

  19. Slowly but surely, the word is getting out. Women are pretty incredible! I loved this post. I also believe that the new Australian Government could learn a thing or two from this King.
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  20. The perspective you share here bears little resemblance to the coverage we see in Canada about women's rights in Saudi Arabia. Rather than a quickly progressing country, we hear about more laws being passed that reinforce segregation in the work place, additional rules around what women are permitted to wear and few laws to address domestic violence.

    1. When it comes to coverage of Saudi Arabia in the media it's almost always written by people who have never even visited the country but still considers themselves experts on it. Add to that Saudi bashing since 9/11 and you get the picture. The country is not perfect but gradually women are getting equal rights. By the way they passed a law against domestic violence this year.

  21. Rejoice in Slow Reformation

    Having lived in Saudi Arabia for five years in the early eighties and worked in the Kingdom intermittently through the reigns of three kings, I can share a perspective suggesting that Sunday, September 25, 2011 will long be remembered as a turning point not only in Saudi Arabian history, but in the history of the world.

    The Kingdom has only been in existence since 1932. The hegira calendar marks this same date as 27 Shawwal in the year 1432. Herein lies the significance of the day when Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, declared that women will have the right to vote and participate with respect and dignity in the Saudi Shoura, a quasi-senate like national advisory council, and to a greater extent, in Saudi society as a whole. Cultural norns regarding women have been in place for 1400 years.

    King Abdullah, the 87-year old monarch who was just 11-years old when his country was born, will be recognized for affecting a change so bold and progressive that it musters an ideological energy strong enough to change, over time, how the world relates to one of the strongest cultures known.

    The King stated, "Balanced modernization, which falls within our Islamic values, is an important demand in an era where there is no place for defeatist or hesitant people … Muslim women in our Islamic history have expressed correct opinions and advice." The pace of change in the wake of his declaration will be cyclonic and bring with it more changes for the adult women and men of Saudi Arabia than they could have ever imagined while growing up.

    One need only drive along the 20 kilometer long borders of the sprawling, yet to be opened Princess Nora University Campus just north of Riyadh, to get a physical sense of the scale of changes that lie ahead. Created based on the Royal Decree of King Abdullah, the university will accommodate over 40,000 students. One of the countless distinctions this university will have is that the entire student body will be female.

    While just about everyone knows Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not permitted to drive, one might only pause for a moment to imagine the traffic gridlock that will occur daily near this university as male chaperones and chauffeurs handle the driving duties.

    Realistically, women driving within the Kingdom now would be an absolute disaster. The reason for this is in the very culture that makes significantly less of the rights of women. Any women driving and involved in an accident today would be found guilty, based simply on the culture, laws, and norms. There must be a sequence to changes to laws and norms while honoring the culture of the country and of Islam. If we look carefully we see this happening. It is the pace that makes it hard to see.

    In a Saudi Royal Government mandate referred to as Nitaqat enacted earlier this year, there will be a continual decrease in the number of jobs held by foreign nationals working in the Kingdom. There are thousands of male foreigners in Saudi who spend all their time driving their female clients from place to place.

    In a speech made by the King several months ago, he said, "Women carry a responsibility that is more than a duty, to maintain the stability of society and contribute to building the economy of the nation, and to represent the community and the nation to the highest standards, outside and inside the country. Outside the country, they are ambassadors of their country and community … and they represent well our religion and our values.”

    As Princess Nora University opens and joins many other Saudi universities advancing Saudi women to graduation, there will be traffic jams of sorts on the corporate ladders within the Middle East and beyond. In 2009 more women graduated with bachelor degrees in Saudi Arabia than men.

    Many Saudi women have an eagerness and commitment to learn and contribute significantly to their world that is hard to find elsewhere in the Middle East. On December 9, 2010 in the Arab News, a daily Saudi newspaper, there appeared a feature article accompanied by a photograph of eleven Saudi women receiving recognition at the first-ever Women in Leadership Forum in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The headline read: Forum Discusses Strategy to Empower Women. One of the proudest women in the photograph is Princess Lolowah Al-Faisal al Saud. The princess has spent years stewarding bright women into leadership roles in education, commerce and civic organizations across the Kingdom.

    I have had the privilege of providing leadership development training to both men and women employed in the private sector in Saudi Arabia over the years. The women have the superior will and drive. So the next question is not about will they drive … but when. The day is coming.

    Every country in the world has some adjusting and improving to do. And if we want to look somewhere new for fresh inspiration, we need to consider looking within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

    In the privacy of a packed government assembly hall in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on September 25, 2011, the world was made a better place.

    Tony McKeon

  22. Well done Catarina. I enjoyed reading this article. It’s uplifting to know that an evolution is taking place in SA. May it continue to gain strength.

  23. I was thinking about your statistics Catarina – the majority of Saudi wealth is owned by women yet the majority of women do not work. A commenter mentioned that the majority of Saudi women do not want women to drive. I think these numbers tell us that change will happen when women, as a group, make a paradigm change. On another note, it is possible many women in Saudi Arabia are happy NOT working while enjoying their great wealth.
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  24. Catarina, I really enjoyed this post. I had heard that there were some higher profile women in Saudi Arabia although I had no idea as to the extent.

    I think perhaps women might gain a bit of ground the next ten years, but even here in Canada where we have (and have had for a long time) equal rights, there, as you say remains a core few who can't seem to let go of the old fashioned ideas. We still see higher pay rates for men in many industries but I do believe it is getting better.

    I think this will always improve slightly but certainly not overnight.

    You have had a very impressive background Catarina. What made you leave Saudi Arabia? What do your parents think? Do they think you are the adventurous one in the family? 🙂

    Thanks for the interesting post.

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    1. Thanks Jayne, glad we agree. Left KSA because the desert climate gives me breating difficulties. Never had it before or after. Take after my late father and my late mother used to just tell me I'm just like my father.

      Actually used to tell Saudi women that in Sweden we have equal rights. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that nothing had happened in that respect during the 22 years I had been living abroad.

  25. Catarina,

    Could it be that Ladies in the UAE are far more prominent and successful in business, and that Saudi Arabian women are deemed as having a lower professional threshold for business? Ladies in the UAE have paved the way for Saudi Arabian females to enter the business world.

    Naturally, money and family connections are primary and paramount for women in this region of the world.

    Perhaps it is that Prince Alwaleed and King Abdullah do not want their women i.e., their well educated daughters and other female family-connected members, to be seen as backward in an International, business-led world where their female neighbours in the UAE have mastered and taken a huge lead ahead of them on the International stage.

    The UAE will always have the lead on Saudi Arabia in this, and other matters. The Saudi Arabian Ladies are catching up, but they are not at the forefront. That is in the hands of the Ladies of the UAE.

    1. Charles, not only women in the UAE but in Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar are having women's rights. This article is about how women in Saudi Arabia are now slowly but surely getting the same rights. Having lived in Saudi, Kuwait and the UAE I'm not sure why you see it as competition between women in the Gulf. That's not how they look upon it.

  26. .Women have even started to work in different fields,whether in high rank jobs as you have mentioned or even lower ones. Therefore, I believe it will not take more than 10 years to see more leading Saudi women.

  27. Hi Catarina,

    This is a very intersting and articulate article.The seemingly increasing employment rate of women in Saudi Arabia is very noticable.You have touched important issues like the equality provided for women which is depicted in the increasing number of Saudi business women and you compared Western and Arab socities.It is because of your direct contact with the Saudi society, that you are able to have a very vivid vision concerning women employment status .I caneven feel your biased attitude regarding this issue of their given rights,and I infact respect it because at last we Arab women can find someone from the "other side of the earth"who can give us the understanding and respect we deserve.Because just as you have pointed,females in the Arab world are given their full rights which is due to the application of the rules of Islam.That equates between both sexes in all aspects of life.The fact that is mostly overlooked.This is why as you have mentioned, there is a high percentage of well educated women in Muslim and Arab societies which you recognise in the Saudi society.And so when women are given the opportunity, they can prove their credentials.

    1. Glad you like my article and that it's noticable that more women are employed in Saudi Arabia. It's high time. Personally know a lot of capable women there and you will slowly but surely be able to do what women in other countries do.

      1. Thank you Catarina for your reply.I am Egyptian but though I have just been here in the kingdom for few months.I have noticed too just like you the increasing rate of women employment in theSaudi society.

  28. Catarina,

    This is analogous to The US.

    Having worked in many areas, I can see that the bell curve that applies to white males underscores the limitations of an all white-male work environment.

    This makes the expansion of workplace opportunities compulsory–from a business point of view.

    As far as:

    King Abdullah championing women’s rights

    “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.

    In short: "His Majesty embraces it, I will not dispute it."


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  29. Very interesting article which I have shared on my facebook page. It's good to read that Saudi Arabian women are allowed to work and set up businesses.

  30. Interesting article Catarina. Progress in any society does take time as long as those wanting the changes persist and keep taking steps. I found it interesting that you said 78% of women unemployed have university degrees. What are the main reasons for this?

    1. Thank you Susan. Statistics says 78% are university educated. Personally believe that figure is probably so high because all women that don't work outside the home are not registered as unemployed. If you look at the higher level of Saudi society a lot of the young women are educted abroad. And now more and more women are going to university in Saudi Arabia.

  31. Time seems to move more quickly lately. I don't know that it IS but it seems that way. If it's true then can we be confident that the Saudi Arabian womens presence in the work force will accelerate? Cultures are so different from one country to another. I think they may be ahead of the USA because I don't recall the USA men, in the early days of women's rights (voting, working, etc) being as supportive as it seems that King Abdullah.

    1. Good points Patricia. Things move more quickly lately. So hopefully that will speed up progress for women in Saudi Arabia. After all they can avoid the pitfalls of the West by studying our progress and then avoid our mistakes. And you are right that it makes a difference that top men in society are supportive of women's rights.

  32. I find this article very interesting. I wasn’t aware that Saudi Arabian women were in charge of that amount of wealth. I find that hard to believe honestly. Are they really in charge or do think that there’s still at least one man in the background influencing their control?

    1. Thanks Sherryl. I'm sure that in some cases there is a man in the background in other cases not. Women in the top ranks, like princesses, are less likely to have men controlling their wealth. Maybe the most important aspect of that issue is if the man in charge let's her do what she wants or not. And that depends from case to case.

  33. I believe that women should be allowed to work and follow their passions as the men do. It has taken us a long time to be seen as equal to our male counter parts in the United States. There are still many industries in which women do not receive equal pay for equal work but it is much better than it use to be.
    I have always heard that Saudi women were not allowed the same rights as men in their country. I am encouraged that they are beginning to get opportunities. It will take awhile but at least their has been some change.

    1. Yes Julia. It's about time things are starting to approve for them.

      One Jordanian man living in Jeddah wrote this to me:

      "Don't look to Saudi women's rights from western perspectives. Saudi women are proactive and enjoying numerous rights. I am working in jeddah saudi arabia, Believe me i have seen immense social change in saudi society. Its changing rapidly and as a political scientist i am keenly interested to see this transitional phase. Women folk will achieve more rights with the passage of time".

  34. This is amazing! I'm so glad to see that there is progress in this area. Still it is depressing when one considers that women can be legally stoned to death in some parts of the world…

  35. Interesting compare and contrast to Sweden. The perception in the US is that Sweden is much more advanced and SA less advanced toward equality for both genders.

  36. Nice post Catarina.
    We often hear the comment "it takes a village" when it comes to children but I believe it is quite applicable here. As long as the village / community / country has both male and female supporters of women, then women have an opportunity to grow. I'd like to think this will happen sooner vs. later, but history teaches us otherwise. What I'd really like to see are the Saudi leaders impact other Middle Eastern countries where women's rights are not necessarily as advanced. We have heard a great deal about the Iranian woman who is scheduled to be stoned. Her conviction came from men. If a woman is permitted to vote, her vote only counts for half that of a man. The Kings of Saudi Arabia are off to a great start. I look forward to the observing more momentum in the cause.

  37. Well, I would say my first few years I was probably as positive as you about the reality of it all, when I was being so graciously welcomed by prominent families and talked to so inspiringly about charity, change and development. It takes *really* getting to know what happens behind the scenes before the scales fall from your eyes. Many prominent Saudis don’t even acknowledge the slums exist or blame the situation on the immorality of the people who live there.

    Still, change is happening very slowly and from a very lofty height… but it is change nonetheless so who knows what will happen in a few decades’ time? I hope your optimism is not unfounded. I am optimistic that change will happen, but Saudi in 10 years’ time will still be miles away from a situation where you can really talk about true equality for Saudi women.

    Sweden sounds awful if it really is the case that you’d be better off being poor in Saudi than you would be in Sweden! I had no idea…

  38. Yes, of course – nowhere in this world is a place where 'all top women' help those in the slums. Out of genuine interest, are the slums and welfare system equivalent in Sweden and Saudi?

    Having lived and worked in Jeddah, I would say it's not just the government officials who prevent women from setting up companies without the consent of their guardians… it's the guardians themselves too! I welcome change in Saudi… I'm just saying there's no point getting all misty-eyed about it and talking about them achieving equality faster than the West.

    Yes, change will always need to happen from the top… but I have seen wealthy women in Saudi rail against obstacles to their own opportunities, whilst simultaneously confiscating the passports of their maids and therefore enslaving them. It's common practice.

    1. When it comes to women's issues Sweden was where Saudi Arabia is today over 100 years ago. There was no welfare system then and horrible slums. Welfare was given from owners of companies to their employees i.e. most people were not given anything.

      Sweden needs a welfare system since they broke up the village system a long time ago which was the enf of families and villages taking care of each other. In Saudi Arabia they do not only within a family but within thribes. And don't forget the majlises prominent royals and business owners have. Believe me people take much better care of each other in Saudi Arabia than they do in Sweden.

      Lived and worked in Riyadh, and know a lot of prominent Saudi women and men who are being kind and caring. Sorry that you had such bad experiences.

  39. None of these women can set up anything or do anything without the consent of the men in their family. So, for as long, as the men of wealthy families support the women of wealthy families, then change will continue. Outward symbols cannot hide the ‘real’ status of women in Saudi society, even in the wealthiest families. But the wealthy Saudi fathers are now seeming to realise that they can boast about their daughters’ achievements too and are actually pushing them towards becoming business-minded.

    I just pity all the poor women in Saudi Arabia, who will always be treated like absolute crap because the rich in Saudi remain completely disinterested in their plight and just chuck them the odd bit of charity when religious obligations bid them to.

    That the privileged women at the top get more voice and power in society is important, but they are morally obliged to use it to help all those who remain repressed in Saudi slums.

    1. Tolly, Saudi Arabia, like all other countries in the world change, from the top. Always has been like that and always will be. Even in Sweden, the role model for many developing countries.

      Having lived and worked all over the world I'm really interested in finding out which country in the world all wealthy women help poor women? Or all wealthy men helping the poor for that matter?

      Never happens anywhere. Do you really believe that all top women, even in Sweden, helped Swedish women in the slums here?

      Change is happening in Saudi Arabia, but don't demand the impossible. You can't expect what took a hundred years in the West, and is still imperfect, to happen over night in the kingdom.

      By the way, it's government officials that prevent women from setting up companies without the consent on their guardian. Not the law. It was like that already 5 years ago when I lived in Riyadh. Conservative men in government stop women from progress. But they will not be able to do so in the long run.

  40. Hi Catarina,

    Thank you for the article and for pointing out important facts. I am a Canadian of Middle East origin and I do go back and forth to Middle East. While I believe changes are inevitable, not only for pragmatic reasons (economic and social contribution) but also resulting from globalization impact. I am just not sure of how fast this will take place and to what extent will women participation will increase. There are significant cultural differences that will always be a source of resistance.

    Although I do believe many women, and even men who advocate change, will contribute to change, there will always be core of traditionalists (and this is not criticism of course—-we all have differences),who will not embrace or encourage changes. For example, I have my doubt that the biggest majority of women are proponents of allowing women to drive. I may be wrong and I would be happy if I was.

    THanks again and best of luck 🙂

    1. Glad you like my article Ian. Agree that the conservatives are preventing change, but how long can they do so?

      The focus on women driving is just because it's so symbolic. Would you like to drive in Riyadh or Dubai? Personally I love having a chauffeaur in Riyadh and hate driving in Dubai. Driving in Kuwait is fine though. By the way many bedouin women in KSA drive and some women in the cities as well with very dark windows.

      The important issues are above all education and work. An abundance of Saudi businessmen asked me what university in the West I thought they should send their daughter to.

      Things are changing in positive ways and the fact that King Abdullah is pro women's rights and his daughter involved in projects helping women succeed in business are really good signs.

  41. Guy when it comes to equal pay it's Sweden that hasn't moved forward the last 25 years. Other countries all over the world are doing much better in this respect.

    Regarding Saudi Arabia, what's happening now is that more women are working and setting up their own business. There are quite a few already but they keep a low profile. And now inititatives are taking place to enable more Saudi women to succeed.

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