09/16/2016 03:20 EDT | Updated 09/16/2016 03:20 EDT

Reaching The Next Level Of Female Empowerment In Saudi Arabia

pretty young middle eastern woman using laptop at home
michaeljung via Getty Images
pretty young middle eastern woman using laptop at home

Over time, Saudi Arabia has adopted a society that has maintained traditional and religious customs. However, some changes have taken place, and in comparison to the traditional norms of Saudi Arabian society, these changes have been drastic.

When Saudi Arabia first became a nation in 1932, education was limited to a few select schools. However, nowadays free access to education, from kindergarten to university, is every Saudi citizen's right. Although it was focused on males at the beginning, ever since the first school for females was built in 1956, female education has seen significant progress.

The creation of colleges and universities for women has become commonplace. Princess Nora bint Abdul Rahman University (PNU) was the first women's university in Saudi Arabia and the largest women-only university in the world. The increased education of females in Saudi also played an important role in the decision to allow women to vote in municipal elections for the first time in 2016.

Education affects both the Saudi and female labour force participation rates in many ways. In 2013, 60 per cent of graduates in Saudi Arabia were female, only 17 per cent of these women actually ended up in the job market. Many graduates end up unemployed, as the job market is still not very welcoming to women. Even though King Abdullah was viewed as a very cautious reformer of women's rights by changing the law to allow women to work in shops, progress remains slow since this 2011 change.

Nevertheless, there appears to be a coming together that is creating greater opportunities for female entrepreneurs in the country. Saudi Arabia stands out as a country where entrepreneurship is well-perceived and is seen as a worthy career choice for women. This type of advancements will not only be an important factor in the social advancement of women, but will more broadly result in potential economic development for the country. According to Saudi's goals announced on April 25th of this year, Saudi aims to increase women's participation in the workforce from 22 per cent to 30 per cent by 2030.

An increasing number of women in Saudi Arabia have begun to achieve significant success in the entrepreneurial field, tackling big businesses and male-dominated industries to make their unique mark on the economy. In light of recent increases in female-friendly business opportunities, several female entrepreneurs have shown that they are both willing and able to step out of the box to find creative jobs that ignite their passions and challenge them. 

Some examples include Yatooq, a young innovative coffee startup led by Lateefa Alwaalan, focuses on the most famous coffee in Saudi and the Arabian Gulf region, Arabic coffee. There's also Fyunka, a fashion brand of well-known Jeddah based designer, Alaa Balkhy, who gains her inspiration from contemporary pop-culture.

I was thrilled to be a part of G(irls)20 Summit in Beijing, China, which brought together 24 delegates from across the world and gives them the opportunity to gain leadership and communication skills. It is a great way to advocate young females in order to maximize their potential to eventually initiate their own ideas. After meeting this year's delegates, I'm sure some of the delegates will be the great entrepreneurs of tomorrow...

By Rowaida Alerwi, delegate representing Saudi Arabia at the 2016 G(irls)20 Summit in Beijing, China.


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