Germany's Merkel called a 'role model' for Saudi women
Angela Merkel is a "role model for Saudi women", Saudi Arabia's minister of economy and planning said in an interview during the German Chancellor's visit to the kingdom.
Mohammad al-Tuaijri told German website Der Spiegel on Sunday that Markel was also a "humble and hardworking" woman who sets an example for the whole world.
The German Chancellor concluded her two-day visit to Riyadh on Monday, where she met with King Salman to discuss bilateral relations and preparations for the next G20 meeting.
"Without women, Saudi Arabia cannot function at all. We simply cannot get along without their work," he said.
"They are extremely well educated, they want to participate, and they want to bring their voice into the changes of our country."
While Saudi women face many restrictions in work and travel, the ultra-conservative kingdom is swaying towards relaxing rules on women as part of its Vision 2030 campaign.
|Without women, Saudi Arabia cannot function at all. We simply cannot get along without their work
- Mohammad al-Tuaijri
"Opening up, we know, will release completely new potential," Tuaijri said.
In the third quarter of last year, the unemployment rate for Saudi women was 34.5 percent, compared with 5.7 percent for Saudi men, according to figures cited by the firm Jadwa Investment.
By 2020, the kingdom wants to boost the proportion of women in the workforce to 28 percent from 23 percent last year.
In March, the Saudi labour ministry announced it was aiming for a major boost of female employment in a "telework" initiative, creating up to 141,000 jobs that would enable women to work remotely.
The kingdom held it's first-ever Women's Day celebration in February, with a three-day convention in Riyadh.
Also in February, Saudi women were finally permitted to attend the gym for the first time as part of a national health drive.
At present, women in Saudi Arabia are prohibited from driving and are also required by law to have a male guardian.
The guardian, who is usually a father, spouse or brother, is responsible for granting a woman's permission to study, travel or marry.
While some changes are expected as part of the kingdom's 'Vision 2030' economic reform programme, conservative elites remain influential in forming and approving policy.
Some of these reforms have already come under fire from the state's top religious authority, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, who recently said that the legalising cinemas and concerts could cause the "mixing of sexes" and "atheistic or rotten" influences in Saudi society.