Saudi Women and Their Role in the Labour Market under Vision 2030

University essay from Lunds universitet/Ekonomisk-historiska institutionen

Abstract: Saudi Arabia constitutes an interesting paradox regarding female labour force participation. Despite high living standards and education levels among women, Saudi Arabia has the largest gender employment gap in the world. The Saudi government addresses this issue in the recently launched National Development Plan Vision 2030 which aims to reconstruct the economy in order to decrease the kingdom’s oil dependence. This thesis analyses the position the labour market policies under Vision 2030 attribute Saudi women and discuss how this is likely to affect female labour force participation (FLFP) in general and in the private sector in particular. The study is based on the “What’s the problem represented to be”-approach developed by Carol Bacchi. It carries out a discourse analysis of the Saudi Labor Market Report 2016, connecting the discussion in academia about reasons for low FLFP in Saudi Arabia to the notion of subjectification effects. The study finds that the depiction of women is inconsistent throughout the policies, portraying Saudi women, on one side, as strong agents and untapped potential and, on the other side, as unproductive, unable citizens. Picking up on previous studies which have pointed towards restrictive cultural norms as one of the major causes of the Saudi gender employment gap, this thesis concludes that the labour market policies exemplify the government’s struggle between preserving traditional Islamic values and the desire to modernize the Saudi labour market. While the labour market policies under Vision 2030 represent a positive first step towards a gender-balanced workforce, the inconsistency in the depiction of Saudi women in the labour market and the resistance to overcome restrictive cultural norms are likely to hamper Saudi women’s labour force participation in general and in the private sector in particular.

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