Driving Ban for Women
“In June 2018, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia ends its ban on women driving. While some western media has cheered such reform as a leap towards greater gender equality, many scholars disagreed and scrutinized it through a more doubtful lens especially with the imprisonment of female activists supporting the reform. This paper will investigate the development challenge of gender inequality in Saudi Arabia, focusing on gender gaps in employment. Large gender disparity in employment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia could be attributed to legislative and social restrictions. Progress towards gender equality in employment entails knocking down these existing legislative and social constraints.
Gender Development Index (GDI), a ratio of the female Human Development Index to the male one, measures the gender disparity in three dimensions of human development: education, health and employment. Saudi Arabia’s GDI is 0.877, which is higher than most of other countries in the Middle East and North Africa region. Another indicator of gender equality, the Gender Inequality Index (GII), measures gender gaps in three areas of human development: reproductive health, political representation, and economic participation. The third dimension, the economic status is measured by female and male participation rate in the labor market. The contrast between the female and male participation rate is stark, with an economic participation of 22.3 percent for women, and of 79.5 percent for men. In fact, Saudi Arabia has one of the lowest levels of labor market female participation rate in the Middle East. In 2008, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is ranked one of the lowest among the countries of high human development based on Gender Employment Measure (GEM). According to the Global Gender Gap Index, Saudi Arabia is ranked 138 out of the 144 countries on the list. What’s more, in terms of economic participation and opportunity as one of the subindices, Saudi Arabia fairs 142 out of 144 countries evaluated.
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The initiatives designed for promoting gender equality as the third Millennium Development Goal have placed a heavy emphasis on education as an essential step of female empowerment. Although discrimination based on gender still exists in education with lower quality of education for women, 50 percent of college graduates are women. It seems logical that gender equality at the level of higher education leads to high employment rates for women. In Saudi Arabia, this does not seem to be the case. With 78.3 percent of unemployed women being university graduates, it is evident that gender equality in education is far from being translated into equality in employment. In addition, Saudi women have been constrained to working in the field of education, with 93 percent of female college graduates majoring in education-related subjects.
The culprit for gender inequality in employment could be first found within the legal framework. Government policies of guardianship system, driving ban, gender segregation as well as its restrictions on female access to certain professions are responsible for the disparity between men and women in employment. Guardianship system is a system where women must seek permission of a family patriarch for different aspects of her lives, which could include education, employment and marriage. The system restricts women from freely making the choices about or related to employment, such as education. It is common for male guardians to reject a woman’s request to apply for jobs.
Furthermore, the driving ban for women imposed by the government is another major barrier to female employment. Women were not allowed to drive themselves or travel by themselves. Not only the all-year round high temperature makes it impossible for women to walk outside for a long time but also the public transportation infrastructure is significantly underdeveloped. This means that women must go to work or go on work-related travels by car with the company of a male guardian. Such restriction on women’s mobility makes it more difficult for them to commute to work.”