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Saudi Arabia

Population size and demographic: 36.2 million. 42.17% of the population is female and 57.83% is male.

Women at Work:

In Saudi Arabia in 2021, women’s labour force participation stood at 30.9% (1). The unemployment rate for women was 22.58%. About 14.92% of employed women were working part-time (2). Only 15% of all businesses were owned by women in Saudi Arabia in 2018 (1) and 16.4% of all legislators, senior officials and managers were women in 2020 (2) while 15.8% of all professional and technical workers were women. Saudi Arabia ranks 148 out of the 153 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report of 2020. (2)


Women’s Participation in Parliament:

When it comes to women’s political empowerment, Saudi Arabia ranks 136 out of 153 countries. Women hold 19.9% of all seats in parliament (2) which means that out of the 151 seats in Saudi Arabia’s parliament, 30 are held by women (3). There is an electoral quota in Saudi Arabia, which reserves 20% of its seats for women (3). Women gained the right to vote in 2011, when a decree was issued by the then King Abdullah, allowing women to vote in municipal elections and stand for election. The


first time women actually exercised this right was in the 2015 municipal elections (4). As of 2020, men made up 100% of all ministerial positions. (2)

Violence against Women:

When it comes to violence against women, Saudi Arabia does not provide much data. However, a study done in 2017 with 200 women reports that 45.5% of all participants stated having suffered from spousal physical violence (SPV). This study also showed that women younger than 30 were more likely to experience SPV in the last 12 months than women older than 50. About 16% of women reported SPV in the last 12 months and only 9.5% of women had received medical attention for injuries related to SPV. About 25.5% of participants reported having suffered sexual violence during childhood and 54.5% reported physical violence during childhood. Younger women shown by the study to be more likely to report SPV than older women. (5)

About 33.2% of women stated they could not manage financially by themselves in case of an emergency, as only 26.5% of the participants earned any income. Women whose husbands were unemployed were more likely to suffer from SPV in the past year, and those with substance-abusing husbands were 12.7 times more likely to have suffered from SPV in their lifetime. (5) When it comes to child marriage, there are no specific restrictions for marriages from someone under 18 years old, but these have to be referred to a special court in order to be approved. This was an order issued by the Ministry of Justice in 2019, which states that the marriage should not result in the harm of the younger person, boy or girl (6).

Health:

Healthy life expectancy for women in Saudi Arabia is 65.8 years and they rank 139 out of 153 countries on health and survival. Maternal mortality rate stands at 17 deaths for every 100,000 births and 99.7% of all births are attended by skilled personnel (2). The adolescent fertility rate stands at 7 births per 1000 girls aged between 15 and 19 years. (1)

Education:

When it comes to educational attainment for women, Saudi Arabia ranks 92 out of 153 countries in 2020. The literacy rate is slightly lower for women, with a rate of 92.7% compared to 97.1% for men. Enrolment in primary education stands at 97.1% for both men and women but drops to 84.2% for girls in secondary education and women attend tertiary education at a 69.9% rate, higher than that of men, with 66.3%. (2)

Current Law and Policy:

Saudi Arabia has recently made great strides in improving the position of women and girls. In 2018 sexual harassment was criminalised. However, women are still under the control of men due to the cultural and social significance of the guardianship system. 

Saudi Arabia was elected by the UN to a four-year term on its Commission on the Status of Women which was met with mixed views internationally and over a dozen women’s rights campaigners are currently imprisoned in Saudi Arabia.

In Saudi Arabi there is a male guardianship system, which states that women must have a male guardian, whose permission they need to apply for a passport, work and travel. They can’t be considered guardians of their own children (7). Although Saudi Arabia has taken some steps in the right direction, like allowing women to participate in the political sphere, encouraging women to enter the labour force and passing laws that acknowledge and criminalize domestic abuse, the guardianship system still stands as a massive obstacle to achieve equal rights for women in Saudi Arabia. (7)


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