Saudi Arabia: Social Issues Involving Women

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This statement echoes several social issues involving women but unfortunately aren’t addressed and tackled enough. Some say that gender equality has already been established but one look at reality will show that different factors, such as career, affect the situation. Perhaps one of the most upsetting issues nowadays focuses on the few and the diminishing number of women in the field of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) as well as information and technology (ICT). Various research proves that it is difficult for women to be integrated into these areas, which will comprise 90% of jobs in the future. In the case of Saudi Arabia, the country has been experiencing gender discrimination in all the work fields due to the low rates of gender equality. However, talking about STEM and ICT, Saudi Arabia predominates the percentage of women studying. In our country, 59% of students in universities are women, also 50% of the degrees achieved are gained by women. These indexes reveals that ¨tertiary education in the Arab region is high compared with gender balance in several countries¨, showing an imbalance in favor of women (Islam, 2017). While these indicators are considered achievements to the issue of leaky pipeline in STEM and ICT, female researchers of science of Saudi Arabia has the lowest participation rates of 1.4% (UNESCO, 2015). Also, women are not compensated enough. While 57% of our GDP is obtained by the industry sector, Saudi Arabian women occupy 107th place in the gender pay gap worldwide. They are receiving 56% less salary than their male counterparts and this leads to the discouragement of women, showing high rates of women graduates but only few are able to join the work field and some don’t last in the system. It is also proven that one deterrent for women in STEM is the high occurrence of sexual harassment, having ¨the highest rate of sexual harassment of any profession outside of the military¨(Campbell, 2019). European Commission (EIGE, 2018) observed how gender equality in STEM education leads to an increase in economic growth. If companies integrate more female employers in workfields involving STEM and ICT, the GDP of these countries will rise, with approximately 0.2% more in 10 years, due to an increase in innovation potential (Communication of the ACM, 2019). According to the speakers in the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women last 14th of March 2018, women’s leadership in media and digital decision-making are expected to have important impacts on economies, particularly for development targets and poverty reduction. Hence, the delegation of Saudi Arabia encourages other delegations to tackle and make effort in solving and reducing women’s issues in STEM and ICT.

Saudi Arabia has made domestic efforts towards reducing sexual harassment and gender digital gap. Tamader Alrammah Vice-Minister for Labour and Social Development of Saudi Arabia delivered her country’s presentation after playing a related video clip in the 62nd session, 6th and 7th meetings, of the UN Commission on the Status of Women last March 2018. Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030”, according to her, would require a broad digital transformation as well as strong economic and technical infrastructure, outlining several of her government’s strategic goals to that end. These included the application of human capital to reduce the gap between digital supply and demand; the development and activation of “smart Government transactions”; the provision of broadband services to all regions; support for e-commerce; bridging the digital divide and; increasing the ICT sector’s contribution to Saudi Arabia’s non-oil gross domestic product (GDP). In Saudi Arabia, women have been encouraged to study Computer Science ¨through various factors such as the distribution of CS colleges across the kingdom, gender separation, and culture¨ (Fayiq Alghamdi, 2016). Concerning harassment issues, Saudi Arabia passed the anti-sexual harassment law on the 30th of May 2018 to hold abusers accountable for their actions. However, the country has still a long way to go to reduce the high rates of women being harassed.

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The delegation of Saudi Arabia feels the issue of there being a lack of women in science fields will be detrimental in the future, to address this issue, Saudi Arabia has participated in projects that empower and integrate women in the workplace and in general. One of these projects is the HeForShe. HeForShe (often referred to as He for She) is a solidarity campaign for the advancement of gender equality, initiated by the UN. Its goal is to achieve equality by encouraging both genders to partake as agents of change and take action against negative stereotypes and behaviors. The main organization in which Saudi Arabia is involved is UN Women, UN Women is the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide. These actions, however, are still lacking in several areas because not all areas are considered such as the stages of the leaky pipeline and the social factors.

Regarding the previous information, the delegation of Saudi Arabia believes that there are not enough job opportunities for those women who graduate from ICT and STEM because of the lack of employment in the country. In addition, some of those who find jobs related to their fields don’t stay long because of sexual harassment and discrimination at the workplace. Looking at the first stages of the leaky pipeline, the younger generations also don’t have good exposure to STEM and ICT due to poverty, lack of technology in classrooms and technology-related extracurricular activities. The fact that these fields will dominate the majority of the jobs in the future while possibly half of the population aren´t technology literate will increase the gender digital gap. In order to expose the younger generation to STEM and ICT, the delegation of Saudi Arabia recommends the implementation of an educational program called STEM and ICT Educational Program (SIEP) which consists of applying or increasing technology-based activities in schools and extracurricular trips and conferences that expose the younger generation to the said fields. The funding for SIEP will come from the Department of Education of countries involved under the surveillance of UN Women. This is also in collaboration with UNICEF, which will focus on the education of children in rural areas. In addition, professionals in the fields will be encourage to participate in the activities to be role models to the students. This will help decrease the digital gap in rural areas of the country. This project is going to be established first in countries in which their percentages of women in these fields is low. We hope for this program to be operational by 2025. Our second proposal is to create a new UN Women department that will be in charged of researching and compiling date on sexual harassment in the workplace. This information, in return, will be used as guides in implementing policies to reduce and prevent it. Open online platforms will also be available for researchers around the world to join and collaborate in research (this is a suggestion; you may or may not use it). The department is in collaboration with ILO and under UN Women, this department will be funded by the same organizations. Chosen research will also be funded by the department. These policies will decrease sexual harassment through punishment (change word used) but will also conscientize workers in order to ensure a safe work environment for women. We hope for this department to be functional by 2025. The delegation of Saudi Arabia strives for a future where men and women have the same opportunities in STEM and ICT fields whether in school or the workplace. We believe that actions should be taken promptly to ensure that these goals are met in the future. Most importantly we need to protect the younger generations and provide help to the current generation to reach a balance in the future, which we lack now.


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