Monday, February 01, 2016

"Saudi Women Are Getting Down to Business"

"Not long ago, Attar’s story would have seemed impossible in Saudi Arabia. This is a country, after all, where until recently women had access to only a few professions, such as nursing and teaching. A series of reforms begun under former King Abdullah has changed all that, allowing females to take up a range of jobs, from sales to services to administration. As more and more professions have opened to women, female entrepreneurs and businesswomen like Attar have seized every opportunity, no matter how small. Today, women can be found running shops and businesses, tech firms and start-ups. The number of female employees has grown 48 percent since just 2010, and the high female unemployment rate, at 33 percent, paradoxically shows that record numbers of Saudi women are trying to get out of the house and into the workplace.

These changes are turning Saudi Arabia’s traditional social structure on its head. Women legally remain dependents here: They require permission of a male guardian — a father, husband, or son — to travel and study. They can’t drive. But as they have started working, they have gained a newfound independence from the simple fact of having an income. It’s such financial power that could prove a game-changer for women’s rights in the kingdom.

Meanwhile, growing numbers of women are divorcing husbands who are not supportive of their ambitions. Divorce rates in Saudi Arabia have skyrocketed in recent years, and government statistics indicate that wives’ desires to work is a flash point for conflict. Local media have reported that in 2011 some 40 percent of khula divorces — those in which the wife asks for separation — came after a husband forced her to quit her job."

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