Saudi Arabia's first ever astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi, the first Arab Muslim female astronaut, and Ali al-Qarni on board.

Unveiling Saudi Women’s Abilities: Driving Gender Equality

May 20, 2023

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Saudi Arabia's first ever astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi, the first Arab Muslim female astronaut, and Ali al-Qarni on board.

Images: Saudi Space Commission (Saudispace.sa/Instagram)

Saudi Arabia’s first space mission is scheduled to launch on May 21, with Saudi Arabia’s first ever astronauts Rayyanah Barnawi, the first Arab Muslim female astronaut, and Ali al-Qarni on board.

Rayyanah is the latest in series of Saudi development process for women. In recent years, Saudi women have been making great strides in the country’s workforce. International and local magazines are featuring top Saudi women in various fields, and Forbes’ list of leading women in the Middle East is becoming more inclusive of Saudi women. Have Saudi women always been working behind the scenes, or is this a recent development resulting from new regulations that allow them to have a more visible presence in the workforce?

As part of the ongoing reforms, the Saudi government has introduced rules regulating foreign law firms in February 2023 who wish to operate in the country. The other day I read in a Saudi official newspaper, Um Al Qura, that the Ministry of Justice official who handles the licensing is a woman. This was a positive surprise as traditionally the Ministry of Justice has been a male domain. Indeed, it is less than ten years since women were first allowed to practice as lawyers. Now they occupy key positions in the legal departments of government organizations and are partners in leading law firms.

Throughout the history of Saudi Arabia, women have made significant contributions to the country’s development, which have been in line with the changing needs and structures of society. Despite facing numerous social and bureaucratic obstacles, women did their best in their own way. However, it is important to note that the names known to many through their existence in public life or to journalists and researchers are not exhaustive and do not do justice to the many women who have worked tirelessly to help women achieve their goals and fulfill their ambitions. We must not forget the role of teachers and doctors, which were the only two professions open to Saudi women until a few years ago, as well as the many women who now hold positions in various sectors across the country. Above all, it is crucial to recognize the vital role of mothers who have encouraged their daughters to pursue education, often pushing for opportunities they never had themselves.

In 2011, the Saudi government announced a plan to increase women’s participation in the workforce, called the National Strategy for Women’s Advancement. This plan aimed to promote gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace, as well as to address the barriers that limit women’s participation in the workforce. As part of this plan, the government introduced a number of initiatives and programs to support women’s employment, such as offering training and education programs, establishing job centers for women, and creating a more supportive legal framework for women’s employment.

While Saudi women have been working behind the scenes for many years, recent changes in regulations and policies have created more opportunities for women to participate in the workforce and take on leadership positions. This progress reflects the efforts that Saudi Arabia is making towards creating a more equitable and inclusive society, where women have equal opportunities to succeed in their careers and contribute to the country’s growth and development.

The aim for women in the workforce under Vision 2030 is to increase their participation and representation in the workforce in order to drive economic growth and social development. The plan includes increasing the percentage of women in the workforce from 22% to 30% by 2030, and promoting women’s participation in leadership positions across different industries. Saudi Arabia’s female labour participation reached 37% in 2022, the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Ahmed al-Rajhi announce in January 2023.

The vision also aims to empower women by providing them with better education and training opportunities, promoting gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and removing barriers that limit their full potential. Moreover, includes initiatives aimed at increasing women’s participation in leadership roles, creating a more inclusive work environment, and providing better support for working mothers. As the Arabic proverb goes, “A mother is a school; if you prepare her, you prepare people of grace.”

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