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Women in Saudi Arabia struggle for work due to coronavirus pandemic

Covid-19 is impacting global economy [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 June, 2020

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Women in Saudi Arabia are struggling to retain jobs in the wake of Covid-19.
The tourism and entertainment industry – both leading industries in Saudi Arabia – are struggling under the burden of fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic, and women are bearing the brunt.

The pandemic, which has caused the deaths of hundreds of people in the Middle Eastern kingdom, has damaged its non-religious tourism industry.

For many women in Saudi Arabia, Covid-19 stuttered their financial opportunities.

Abeer al-Howayan, a 31-year-old chemistry graduate initially wanted to do something in the science industry but eventually turned to selling homemade cakes when she could not land a job in the industry.

Later the 31-year-old was chosen for a government training programme to support a $20 million flagship tourism project in the kingdom’s northwestern region, Reuters reported.

She had initially travelled to France on the behest of the kingdom and trained in artisanal soap-making, before selling her creations at a booth near Madain Saleh, and online.

The advent of Covid-19 put a stop to her financial career, and she, like many women, became unemployed.

"It's very tough, but I keep telling myself things will get better after corona. One has to remain optimistic," Howayan told the publication.

Women in Saudi Arabia make up approximately 83 percent of the jobless, according to the Saudi statistics office.

Seventy per cent of those women have high school diplomas or university degrees.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promised in 2017 "better unemployment numbers by 2020" and cut jobless rates to 7 percent over the next decade.

However, the rate has fallen by less than 1 percent.

Coronavirus disruptions and austerity measures have attacked the private sector economy.

"To reduce unemployment, the private sector will need to create at least 500,000 to 1 million jobs for Saudis," said John Sfakianakis, a Gulf expert at the University of Cambridge.

"But this year alone, the private sector will unavoidably contract by 7 percent… and that’s just this year."

Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan told Reuters that the government remained committed to job creation targets and was still funding training and capacity building, but stopped shy of addressing the issue of women.

"Coronavirus is with us this year and possibly for a part of next year, but then it will go away and when it goes away we need to make sure that we have seized this time to build more capacity and train more people to be ready when we start offering services again," said Jadaan.

Analysts said they expected a recovery in tourism and entertainment to start in the first half of 2021, with the sectors requiring government support for at least a few years.


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