Saudi Arabia warned of 'women explosion'

Writer says Kingdom has 4m spinsters with no jobs

A prominent Saudi newspaper writer has lashed out at the government over the high unemployment rates among women, saying a surge in the number of jobless spinsters to over four million threatens the world’s dominant oil power with what he described as a women’s explosion.

Yousuf Al Muhamimeed dismissed government claims that women in Saudi Arabia, the largest Arab economy, have an “honorable and protected life,” saying those who make such claims are “detached from reality.”

In an article in the mass circulation Saudi Arabic language daily Aljazeera, he said Saudi Arabia has the highest divorce rate in the Arab world and the number of its spinsters exceeds the combined native population of the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain. His article, published in Al Jazeera and other newspapers in the Gulf kingdom this week, was titled “where will this army of spinsters go.”

Muhamimeed, citing figures by local social centres, said nearly 1.5 million Saudi spinsters are above 30 years old and that half of them could be above 35 years.

“What destiny will this army of spinsters face….it is known that most of them have completed their studies or do not have educational qualifications and that most of them have no jobs as official data show that unemployment among women in Saudi Arabia has reached 40 per cent,” he said.

“They have no husband and no family….so what can a woman without a family, without a husband, without a job do?…..what is happening in this country points clearly to a catastrophe unless new blood is injected into the country’s ministries and other government institutions….without this, we will soon find ourselves amidst a social, political and financial crisis….

“We should not forget that women, when pushed to extremes will do what we never expect…it could be an explosion…..those who say that Saudi women have an honorable and protected life in the country are detached from reality…honoring and protecting women mean we should trust them and grant them all their rights, including job opportunities.”

Muhamimeed said women in Saudi Arabia still face many obstacles in getting jobs while they are banned from many careers “under the pretext of gender-mixing.”

“They also can not seek loans from the government real estate fund unless they are divorced or widows nor can they start their own business without male’s supervision….with all these obstacles and social barriers, should we keep four million Saudi spinsters locked up inside their homes counting their remaining days and living on mere hope without real action.”

In a recent study, a Saudi social centre said the kingdom had more than 1.5 million spinsters aged above 30 years.

During 2009, nearly 60,000 couples tied the knot in the country but there were more than 18,000 divorce cases, said the study released by the “My Family Society” in the western Saudi town of Medina.

“This means that the kingdom is suffering from a marriage failure rate of nearly 30 per cent. As a result, Saudi Arabia is suffering from a high number of female spinsters, who are now estimated at 1.5 million aged above 30 years….the number could rise to more than four million in the next five years,” it said.

It attributed the surge in divorce rates in the world’s top crude exporter to what it described as “the new negative attitude of the Saudi character” because of social and economic changes brought about by the discovery of oil.

“There is a need for a plan to reverse these attitudes…the plan must cover men and women seeking to marry and the families which marry their children.”

In a lecture early this year, a well-known Saudi female university professor said Riyadh needs to enact legislations to force the private sector to recruit national women to cut female unemployment and allow them to contribute to the domestic economy, which is dominated by expatriates.

Dr Siham Al Issa, Scholarship Director at the Riyadh-based Princess Noura University, said Saudi Arabia needs to be gradually prepared for a wider role by women in the society and called for equal rights for men and women at work.

“We now need new policies and regulations to overcome the obstacles that are blocking Saudi female graduates from actively contributing to their economy and their society,” she said in the lecture.

“We should adapt to the new changes….unemployment is high among Saudi women and I think it is time that we act to activate the woman’s work in the private sector…this is a fundamental demand and we should work to remove all obstacles facing it by gradually educating the society about such realities.”

Saudi Arabia has been hit by unemployment because of high population growth rates and volatile oil prices. The rate among Saudis was officially estimated at around 10.5 per cent at the end of 2010.

According to a key Saudi bank, private sector companies in the kingdom favour non-Saudi employees, who comprised about 90 per cent of the workforce in 2009, up from around 87 per cent in 1008.

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