Time up for debate over women in workplace: Princess Loulwah
Sara Al-Bassam | Arab News

DAMMAM: Princess Loulwah Al-Faisal, vice president of the board of trustees and general supervisor of Effat College, said that women have demonstrated both their business acumen and abilities, and that the time for debate over women in the workplace has past.

She made these remarks on Tuesday night to a crowd of more than 400 women gathered for the second annual Women’s Economic Forum at the Asharqia Chamber for Businesswomen.

The two-day conference, the theme of which was “Women as Partners in Development,” examined women’s current and future role in the Kingdom’s economic development as well as other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states. The forum covered topics from women’s traditional investment plans and economic priorities to obstacles facing women and the necessity of overcoming them.

“The role of women has changed dramatically recently — side-by-side with global and regional social, economic and political developments,” Princess Loulwah said.

She noted that the changes brought challenges with social, cultural, economic and political effects for individuals, families and society, and, in turn, have changed the discourse about the role of women. “The traditional issues relating to women’s education and work are no longer applicable,” she said.

Women own more than 40 percent of bank accounts with up to SR45 billion in Saudi banks. They also have more than 20 percent of all trade businesses registered by the chamber of commerce. They also make up 60 percent of the Kingdom’s university graduates. They, however, only make up 13.5 percent of the Kingdom’s 7.7 million workers; around 93 percent of the Kingdom’s female workers are expatriates.

“We all know that Saudi women make up half of the Kingdom’s population but only make up 1 percent of decision makers,” said Princess Loulwah. She also explained that this trend is often misrepresented and misunderstood.

“Foreign media has used our customs and traditions, and even our religion, to explain Saudi women’s low rate of participation and their indifference to women’s issues,” Princess Loulwah said. “The lack of proper, organized research to discover the real reasons behind this trend leaves us puzzled as to how to solve it.”

These are challenges that women face in the Kingdom as it gets more involved in the global economy, and they require an integrated society. “Integrating women in society does not come by just providing education and job opportunities, it must be reflected in the entire society’s development and in all of its individuals,” Princess Loulwah said.

Sheikha Hessa Sa’ad Al-Sabah, president of the Arab Businesswomen’s Council, said women need to participate in the in their country’s development. “They can help turn the wheels of economic development, which would bear fruit for all Saudi citizens,” she said.

Sheikha Hessa said women have a history in trade and commerce, with many role models from which to select, starting with Khadija bint Khuwailid, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). “It is a national and social necessity for women to participate in the economy,” she said.

Sheikha Hessa noted that 30 percent of Saudi businesswomen are between the ages of 18 and 30, which indicates an increased awareness among the Kingdom’s women and their persistence to enter the marketplace, despite erroneous societal contentions about their capabilities.

The event was held under the support of Princess Jawahir bint Naif.