“Women in Defense” was the title of a program dedicated to the International Defense Exhibition, which was held earlier this week in Riyadh, highlighting the growing role of Arab women in general, and Gulf women in particular, in places and professions that were previously reserved for men.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day under the theme “Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow”, an elite group of inspirational women leaders was honored to celebrate their participation in the defense and security industry.
This reflects a radical transformation in the Gulf which has followed a path of economic diversification and reserved an important place for women in it, as increasing numbers of women are joining the army in an effort to enhance their role in society, governments and companies.
The participation of women in economic activity has become an integral part of the success of the various visions of the Gulf. Women have become politicians, enjoying the opportunity to participate in decision-making on a national level and assuming leadership positions in all Gulf countries.
In recent years, Gulf countries have sought to enact legislation to remove obstacles that held women back, and provided them with equal rights to men as part of sustainable development goals, and in support of national policies.
Saudi Arabia: An ambitious vision for women
In Saudi Arabia, for example, Vision 2030 granted women the right to assume leadership positions in order to increase the proportion of women in the labor market. An ambitious future vision was drawn for women as constant partners in national developments in all fields, and in participating in the nation’s achievements and future building.
From this standpoint, Saudi women’s steps towards empowerment have accelerated with the issuance of many decisions, legislation, and regulations that enhance their position and contribution to society.
Centers have been established to serve businesswomen in Riyadh, which made private endeavors and project creation no longer restricted to businessmen only.
The Ministry of Resources and Social Development in Saudi has made qualitative leaps in terms of empowering women and increasing their economic participation in the labor market. The reform efforts and legislation that took place in recent years in accordance with Vision 2030 have reflected on the goals of enabling women.
The economic participation rate for Saudi females, aged 15 years and over, reached 33.5 percent by the end of 2020, while the rate of women’s participation in the labor market doubled from 17 percent to 31.8 percent, exceeding the 2030 vision target of 30 percent.
The percentage of women in middle and senior management positions reached 30% in the public and private sectors in 2020.
Data showed an increase in the percentage of Saudi women in civil service to 41% at the end of 2020.
UAE: Protecting women from all forms of discrimination
In the UAE, women’s achievements have crossed continents and stretched beyond the confines of earth into space.
UAE’s vision focused on working women when it wrote: “Respect for Emirati customs and traditions fully supports the growing role of women, which makes us continue to empower Emirati women to participate in all fields…and greater opportunities arise for women who can combine active participation in working life and motherhood duties. In order to achieve these lofty goals, women must be protected from all forms of discrimination at work and in society.”
Emirati women established a remarkable presence in business sectors, with female participation reaching 24 percent of the total number of workers in the country. Young females also recorded a remarkable presence in boards of directors of federal entities, with a representation rate of 46 percent.
The UAE ranked first in the Middle East and North Africa in the 2021 World Bank report entitled “Women, Business and the Law”, achieving full marks in 5 sectors: freedom of movement, work, wages, entrepreneurship, and pension.
The UAE celebrates Emirati Women’s Day on August 28, the day when the General Women’s Union was established.
Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar
In Bahrain, the Supreme Council for Women is leading efforts to encourage women to become business owners. The country is akin to an incubator for business activities through which women can establish a basis for their projects and market their products.
Women also have access to subsidized interest rate microfinance loans to start their own businesses.
Kuwait witnessed a similar experience, with its Supreme Council for Planning and Development striving for a future based on the initiative of the private sector for both women and men.
In Qatar, women occupied a prominent role as they competed with men in the highest administrative and scientific positions, and made an effective effort through their contribution in various fields within and outside Qatari society.
Despite all the progress made, international consulting firm McKinsey considers that women’s participation in the labor market in the MENA region, in general, is still the lowest in the world at 24.6 percent, half of what women represent globally. It believes that there is an urgent need to change mindsets in order to achieve gender equality.