Arab News, Sun, Nov 26, 2023 | Jumada Al-Uola 12, 1445
Saudi Arabia leading the way when it comes to getting women into work
No country in the world has been able to keep up with Saudi Arabia’s remarkable
strides in female labor force participation, a top executive at the World Bank
Speaking to Arab News, Safaa El-Kogali flagged
that the share of women in the Kingdom’s workforce now stands at 36 percent – up
from just over 17 percent in 2017.
The country director for the Gulf Cooperation
Council at the World Bank attributed the rise to factors within the Vision 2030
initiative aimed at diversifying the Saudi economy away from oil.
“No country was able to achieve growth in female
labor force participation at this rate,” El-Kogali said.
“I think the train has already left the station
when it comes to women’s labor market participation in the Kingdom of Saudi
Arabia. I think the changes that were done are structural and the reforms that
were put in place, whether they’re legal reforms, or policies, are there now,”
El-Kogali also emphasized that there have been
legal code reforms that remove specific challenges for women.
These legal reforms contributed to a broader shift
in societal perceptions and norms regarding the significance of female
participation in the labor market.
According to a World Bank report released on Nov.
22 that focused on women’s labor force participation in the Gulf region, the
impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Saudi Arabia “created a positive demand
shock” which “accelerated” the number of women in work.
“For the rest of the GCC and MENA (Middle East and
North Africa) region, important lessons can be drawn on advancing female labor
force participation,” the report said.
El-Kogali pointed out the important role education
is playing in ensuring women are able to meet the demand in the Kingdom’s fast
“When I say the train has left the station, I see
the shift in social norms and perceptions. I used to come to Saudi Arabia a few
years ago and coming now I see the changes just visibly as I walk around
Riyadh,” she continued.
Overall, the private sector workforce in Saudi
Arabia has experienced consistent growth, reaching 2.6 million in the early
months of 2023, according to the World Bank report.
This expansion aligns with broader trends of
increased participation in the labor force, a higher employment-to-population
ratio, and a reduction in unemployment rates.
The structural changes introduced through Vision
2030 include policy reforms removing challenges for women, providing increased
workplace protection, and the introduction of programs supporting females in
“Many impediments for women to work were removed.
At the same time, new protections, like the right to equal pay, and many new
programs to support women in the workforce were implemented including, labor law
reforms to eliminate discrimination in employment, sexual harassment in the
workplace,” El-Kogali commented.
She added: “Together with a change in social norms
about women working, which was very much facilitated by government communication
and awareness campaigns, these changes resulted in this extraordinary expansion
of female labor force participation among Saudi women.”
The World Bank also revealed trajectories
regarding the GCC’s economic growth, forecasting it to grow by 3.6 percent in
2024 and 3.7 percent in 2025.
This will come after a 1 percent growth in 2023,
with the weaker performance driven primarily by lower oil sector activities
reflecting successive production cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum
Exporting Countries and its allies, known as OPEC+, and the global economic
According to the report, the Kingdom’s overall
gross domestic product will show a contraction of 0.5 percent in 2023 before
reporting a recovery of 4.1 percent in 2024 to reflect expansions of the oil and
“The region performed strongly in 2022 with an
average growth that surpassed 7 percent, led mostly by Saudi Arabia, which is
the biggest economy in the GCC and it’s also globally the fastest growing large
economy,” El-Kogali said.
“This growth is not just due to buoyant
hydrocarbon prices, but also a continued growth of the non-oil sectors, and the
latter was the result of persistent structural reforms undertaken by several of
the GCC countries, of course, including Saudi Arabia,” she continued.
El-Kogali was clear that the transformations
observed in recent years, particularly in the willingness of Saudi women to
engage in employment, are not temporary but enduring.
“The change is visible across all age groups – it
is not only young Saudi women who are now more willing to take up work, but also
their mothers,” she said.
She added: “Important lessons for other MENA
countries can be drawn, and we as the World Bank will share the Kingdom’s
experience in this important area with other countries who are trying to
implement similar reforms.”