Sometimes it is tough to make your economy more productive.
In Saudi Arabia, just one woman at the office means you have to have a thick barrier separating her from everyone else. She needs her own entrance, her own bathroom, and a security guard to be sure she and all other females have no contact with the men. Meanwhile, if she wants to work for you, a man has to be available, maybe her husband or father, to drive her to work each day. If she earns some money, a man has to open her bank account.
In a World Economic Forum gender gap report, Saudi Arabia scored zero for women’s political empowerment. Surpassing only Pakistan and Yemen, the Saudis were ranked 133 out of 135 countries for women’s economic participation and opportunity. Yes, they do have the world’s largest all female university but many graduates are unemployed.
With this huge underutilization of talent, what to do? The Saudi answer is a female friendly city.
MODON (the Saudi Industrial Property Authority) has announced that it has begun to plan and develop a prototype industrial city for approximately 50 business projects that will create 2000 to 5000 jobs for men and women. The project is unique because its women-only sections will preserve the religious rules “consistent with the privacy of women according to Islamic guidelines…” while its location will enable women to get to work more easily. Combining religion, women, investors and entrepreneurs, the model is designed to spread throughout the Kingdom.
Looking at the constraints on Saudi women, I keep returning to thoughts about human capital. Reflecting the skills, creativity and education that people bring to the workplace, human capital fuels economic growth. By limiting women’s access to jobs, to shopping, to financial services, the Saudi government is diminishing its human capital, its economic potential, and its productivity.
Researching this post I started with an article from the Guardian but soon discovered that it and other news outlets inaccurately stated that the Saudi industrial cities would be single sex/women only. I am basing my facts on the Saudi press release from MODON. Also, you might enjoy reading more about Saudi women here at econlife.