The Washington Post runs a front-page article on the phenomenon of Saudi Arabia’s paying to educate women and then being unable to put them to work. The government, with one hand, seeks to reform social attitudes about women and to make them part of the solution to an economy that is shrinking. With the other it continues to place women outside the economy as anything but consumers. The contradiction is hard on the women who are tantalizingly promised engagement in their country’s development; it is a disaster for the country as a whole.
Saudi Arabia struggles to employ its most-educated women
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — Manar Saud graduated in May from Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., with a master’s degree in organizational leadership, paid for by a Saudi government scholarship. She came home to Riyadh eager to put her new skills to work, but after six months of looking for a job, she is still unemployed.
“It’s really sad,” said Saud, 27, sipping coffee in a Starbucks, a black scarf framing her face, with floral trim on her long black abaya robe. “You come back so well prepared and so eager. Then all of a sudden, there is a brick wall in your face.”
Saud is part of a rising generation of young Saudi women caught between a government spending billions to educate and employ them, and a deeply conservative religious society that fiercely resists women in the workplace.
Although Saudi Arabia has vast oil riches, its per capita gross domestic product ranks only 40th in the world, and many here note that the national economy would be stronger if half the brainpower in the country were put to better use.
“Teach me. Invest in me. Let me work. I don’t get it,” Saud said. “My friends are all in the same situation. What’s wrong here?