Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
Seeking Advancement of Knowledge through Spiritual and Intellectual Growth

International ConferenceAbout IRFIIRFI CommitteesRamadan CalendarQur'anic InspirationsWith Your Help

Articles 1 - 1000 | Articles 1001-2000 | Articles 2001 - 3000 | Articles 3001 - 4000 | Articles 4001 - 5000 | Articles 5001 - 6000 |  All Articles

Family and Children | Hadith | Health | Hijab | Islam and Christianity | Islam and Medicine | Islamic Personalities | Other | Personal Growth | Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) | Qur'an | Ramadan | Science | Social Issues | Women in Islam |

Islamic Articles
Islamic Links
Islamic Cemetery
Islamic Books
Women in Islam
Aalim Newsletter
Date Conversion
Prayer Schedule
Q & A
Contact Info


The Empowerment of Saudi Businesswomen
by Mushtak Parker, Arab News

LONDON — Princess Adelah bint Abdullah, the daughter of Custodian of

the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, should perhaps take a leaf from the

copybook of Marina Mohamed and Nori Abdullah. Marina is the daughter of

former Malaysian Premier Dr. Mahathir Mohamed and Nori is the daughter

of the current Premier Abdullah Badawi. They are known for giving their

fathers “an earful” regarding the rights and empowerment of Muslim


Perhaps the reforms which Saudi Arabia has instituted in the last year

or so regarding the greater role of women in Saudi society and economy

may indeed have had some influence from Princess Adelah.

But, women such as Lubna Al-Olayan, CEO of Olayan Financial Services;

Samra Al-Kuwaiz, managing director of Osool Brokerage Company (Women’s

Division); Nabila Tunisi, acting manager, projects department at Saudi

Aramco, and Soha Aboul Farag, a banker with 17 years of experience who

last year was chosen for the “International Women Leaders Mentoring

Partnership” in the US, are the pioneers for the new and future

generations of Saudi women especially in an era of socio-economic

reforms in the Kingdom where the contribution of women to economic

development is being increasingly acknowledged.

As professional women in high-powered jobs, they have successfully

managed to carve out careers as working mothers while at the same time

managing their families and dispelling the oft-quoted stereotype of

Saudi women — of a meek, compliant and oppressed section of society.

The good news is that the government is actually engaging with women in

the Kingdom as part of a speeding up of the reform process.

Women, for instance, have stood for — and won — elections to chambers

of commerce in the Kingdom’s major cities; and they have been promised

participation in municipal elections next time round. The bad news is

that there is still a long way to go in terms of social and legal

reforms for Saudi women to attain their rightful and equal status in

Saudi society.

However, even in Saudi Arabia the socio-political anomalies are

apparent especially where the private sector is concerned. Lubna

Olayan, the Saudi businesswoman ranked 97th in the Forbes list, is the

CEO of Olayan Financing albeit the company is a wholly-owned subsidiary

of her father’s Olayan Group, one of the Kingdom’s most prominent

private family business groups.

“We live in a male-only society,” emphasizes Samra Al-Kuwaiz. “This

male-only society,” she maintains, “is now viewing women as a possible

economic force. Saudi Arabia is a special case. We are very different

from other GCC countries. We have complete segregation. We have, let’s

say Islamic challenges, which are more evident in the Kingdom. Of

course, we abide by Shariah one hundred percent.”

Saudi women are now starting to challenge the norms, albeit cautiously.

They are, for instance, keen for King Abdullah to introduce a new

Cabinet portfolio — a minister for women’s affairs — thus paving the

way for the first female Cabinet minister to be appointed in the

Kingdom. This they stress is essential so that Saudi women have the

right channels to exercise influence. They look perhaps enviously to

their cousins in the rest of the GCC countries, all of which have

appointed female ministers in various portfolios. They also want

women’s participation in the Shoura and other councils of state; this

seems to be on the cards.

The problem is that the progress of gender equality and equal rights is

at best piecemeal and not enshrined in law. The irony of course is that

many of these rights are enshrined in the Shariah. There are still a

large number of barriers to entry for Saudi women in the workplace.

Never mind the underlying conservatism of Saudi (male) society. In the

field of business, industry and investment, very often Saudi women

entrepreneurs are at a huge disadvantage compared with their cousins in

Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE.

In the latter countries it takes an hour to register a company, whether

male or female. In the Kingdom it could easily take several months.

Businesswomen such as Hana Al-Zuhair, manager of the Businesswomen’s

Center at the Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry

(EPCCI), lament the fact that there are no statistics on the number of

industries owned and managed by women. Very often a factory can be

owned by a woman as a silent partner, but it is actually managed by a


The EPCCI is setting the pace by working through a women’s industry

committee to collect data and conduct studies on the opportunities

available for women. The aim is to educate and encourage Saudi women to

invest in industry, and to leverage recent reforms in government

regulations such as easier industrial registration procedures,

financing and free plots of land to establish a factory in the

industrial cities. At the same time, government officials and

bureaucrats are very often themselves ignorant about the new

regulations. Women entrepreneurs are often told that there are no

relevant forms for women or that it is not permitted for women to

invest in a particular industry.

Saudi businesswomen stress that in spite of the regulations, the

government reforms, and Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority’s

endeavors to encourage women into business, it remains difficult for

them to overcome the barriers. Despite promises of change from the

Ministry of Commerce, nothing substantial has materialized.

The registration process for companies is the same for both men and

women investors. The only additional regulation imposed on women

managers in industrial cities is to have all-women staff in a

designated women’s section with separate entry and exit doors; and a

male supervisor for the male staff in the men’s section. Naturally,

this is a problem for businesswomen.

Nevertheless, the economic power of women in the Kingdom cannot be

understated. Women own 10 percent of real estate, especially in major

cities such as Jeddah and Riyadh, and 30 percent of brokerage accounts

in the Kingdom. They own some 40 percent of the family-run companies,

very often as silent partners. Saudi women as a whole own estimated

cash funds of SR45 billion, of which 75 percent is sitting idle in bank


According to a recent study by the Khadija bint Khuwailid

Businesswomen’s Center at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce & Industry

(JCCI), investment by Saudi businesswomen has reached some SR8 billion,

which is around 21 percent of the total investment. Women “own” some

1,500 companies — about 4 percent of the total registered businesses in

the Kingdom. There are 5,500 commercial registrations of women’s

projects, representing 20 percent of businesses in the retail,

contracting, wholesale and transferable industries sectors.

The business case for the greater and equal involvement of women in the

Saudi economy is proven. Saudi women tend to outperform Saudi men in

education; the arts; science; and if they are given the chance in

business and industry they might do so here as well.

Women are contributing to GDP in several ways — their liquidity and

deposits in banks; their investment in industry; and generating

employment. But they could do much more if only the playing field was


Their financial clout and the reforms that have seen a greater role for

women in the Saudi economy in the last few years have hitherto failed

to reconcile the incidence of massive hidden female unemployment in the


That means there is a large untapped financial resource in the Kingdom

that could, with the right incentives, regulations and facilities,

contribute to the country’s economic development in a range of sectors

and also reduce unemployment. According to official statistics, only

5.5 percent of an estimated 4.7 million Saudi women of working age are

actually employed.

To leverage this, stress many Saudi entrepreneurs, there has to be a

change of mindset especially regarding de-segregation of Saudi society,

including the workplace. The employment of women in the Kingdom is

further skewed by the fact that there is high adult male unemployment

in the economy. As such women are seen by some Saudi men as rivals in

the job market.

Saudi businesswomen are sanguine about this. “Equal opportunities and

the empowerment of women is and will happen. There is no way out of it.

We are just like any other society; like any other women that have to

struggle for change. This change will inevitably be driven by economic

necessity,” stresses one businesswoman.

The consensus among Saudi businesswomen is that change will be gradual,

although economic and demographic necessity could speed up reforms.

Rapid economic development in the last two decades has had an impact.

The Kingdom is witnessing a boom which is even bigger than in the 1970s

after the first oil price rise.

The empowerment of Saudi businesswomen is getting support from various

quarters. Recently, Britain for instance, through its Global

Opportunities Fund, allocated SR700,000 to finance the training of

Saudi women in business development and management through a series of

workshops in Madinah, Jeddah, Abha and Hail.




Please report any broken links to Webmaster
Copyright © 1988-2012 All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer

free web tracker