Saudi women have a crucial role to play in the development of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the wider region, and, in my role as Executive Manager of National Initiatives at Alwaleed Philanthropies (AP), I strongly believe in empowering women to inspire others. We are experiencing progress in women’s empowerment across the region but it I understand that there remains significant work to be done. Philanthropy plays a really important role in this work, particularly in collaboration with government, education and industry organizations.
Earlier this year, AP partnered with the King Saud University, the General Statistics Authority of Saudi Arabia (GASTAT) and UN Women, to complete the most wide-ranging study to be conducted on the social, economic, health and educational experiences of women in the Kingdom. The research and analysis was conducted by an all-female team of Saudi experts who wanted to clearly understand the areas in which the Kingdom is progressing and still faces gaps.
The findings of the Participation of Saudi Women in Development study show that, whilst there have been improvements in the areas of health and education, women’s participation in economic development, social environment, and legislation require more focus. That includes addressing these areas through better government policies, more targeted aid and development initiatives, and programs that track and monitor progress more effectively. When it comes to aid and development, AP helps to fill that gap.
In Saudi Arabia we invest in programs that empower women to overcome barriers to their economic development and help them to enter the work force and contribute to the country’s growth. For example, to help women tap into the gig economy, we provide cars for female drivers or ‘Captainahs’ at the ride-sharing service Careem. To equip women with further employment opportunities, we are also now training them in the maintenance and manufacture of cars, as part of our own goal to train 1,000 individuals with these skills.
Last year, we committed $4 million to a six-year programme aiming to increase the participation of girls and boys in community service across Saudi Arabia and Middle East. We are also supporting the #Scout2030 initiative which raises awareness about how the work of the Scouts contributes to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Alwaleed Philanthropies also worked with Turquoise Mountain, an organization founded by HRH The Prince of Wales to revitalize traditional crafts, to create jobs, revive skills and renew the sense of pride by incorporating traditional craftsmanship in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan into luxury hotel settings. By employing women’s skills in crafts from different cultures and scaling up their potential to a global level, it creates a sustainable income for them.
These are but a few examples of where work is being done to empower women in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. But to properly address the economic and social barriers that Saudi women face, philanthropic organizations need to work together with government and industry to support women’s empowerment. We need to be brave enough to counter those who disagree with or challenge the facts that show empowering women is good for all of society. Together, we must continue to capture the hard work and ambition of women in Saudi Arabia to inspire women across the region to overcome barriers and achieve their full potential.
Amal Al Kathiri, Executive Manager, National Initiatives, Alwaleed Philanthropies