Can a Woman Work in Saudi Arabia?
Having had the opportunity to work for and visit many companies in Saudi Arabia I have seen very few women working in Saudi Arabia. It is not that they are not allowed to work as they can, but they hardly encouraged or aided to become fully capable and productive employees due to the rules regarding what women can and cannot do socially.
Rules for Women Working in KSA
A woman cannot be alone with a man who is not her direct blood relative (brother, father or son) or her Husband. If she is found to be alone she will be tried and punished for lewdness or worse and the potential sentences are staggering with lashes being implemented every Friday. Women therefore cannot mix alone with other men which can make many business situations very difficult and potentially quite dangerous for both parties. So in the west where you may have the sexy sales rep visit you in your office to convince you to avail of their companies services; In Saudi Arabia this could get both of you arrested, jailed and deported if you are an expat.
The law of the land in Saudi Arabia requires that working women are separated from the men and have their own area and facilities where they can be fully protected from the men within the company. Companies that employ women are inspected to ensure that these rules are followed and penalties can be imposed if a company is not fully complying with the regulations.
Travel is also a major issue, women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia, combined with the rule regarding mixing with the opposite sex it can make things very difficult. Strictly a woman should not travel in a taxi or have a driver who is not a blood relative. This is generally overlooked but if you get a police officer on a bad day or a matawa trying to make a point you could be in for a very bad day and this does happen from time to time. This means that any woman who wants to work has to have a driver to chauffeur her to work and home and runs a risk of imprisonment if the driver is not her blood relative. I have seen young boys maybe only 10 years old driving their mothers so as not to run afoul of this issue.
Where can a Woman Work in Saudi Arabia?
So with all of these problems it is difficult to find employment as you would in the west, there are few places you could work where you would be considered safe and proper. If you walk into any mall in Saudi Arabia and go from store to store you will be unlikely to see a female member of staff, In all my time I saw one store that had female staff and that was a dress shop and only women or families were allowed to enter with little of what was inside being visible from outside. That being said there is currently a drive to make the underwear sections to be more private in stores and to have them staffed by female employees which will provide more opportunities for women in the kingdom to be able to sell nickers and bras.
In all of the companies that I visited or worked at apart from hospitals and one company I never saw any female employees or knew of any working there. The one company that I knew where women worked was a company out of Dubai and was run by people far more open than most other companies that I had been into, they employed several women in various positions that mixed freely with all of the staff.
Hospitals of course contain many female workers from doctors and nurses through to the cleaning and administration staff. This seems to be the greatest employer of women by far in the kingdom although most of the employees are expatriate female workers such as Filipino nurses. Second to the hospitals are the various schools and universities, obviously the Saudis have their girls schooled separately and the staff in the schools are all female.
You will also see separate entrances into various banks that are for women only where women can deal with female staff in a man free environment.
Most other female workers tend to work in the cleaning industry being bussed from dormitories where they are locked away after work or as domestic staff for many families across the kingdom. Many female domestics have very poor wages, poor conditions and are often verbally and physically abused and even raped. You see stories on the news occasionally of what some poor women are put through, but on the whole most women are unable to complain and have to escape from abusive employers, often ending up living and working elsewhere illegally or waiting for deportation under a bridge in Jeddah or camped outside their own embassy. At times the way Saudis treat expats can be very inhumane and would lead to a court case in most countries and eventually jail.
It is far from easy to work as a woman in KSA, yet the work ethic of the women that I have met there is far better than any Saudi Male and the education and level of common sense is usually far superior. Personally I would rather see women working in Saudi Arabia than the men as they are far more friendly and productive!