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Women in business in Saudi Arabia

BY EGIC Investigative Series



The Euro-Gulf Information Centre (EGIC), while striving to develop a comprehensive outlook on the Arab Gulf region, is very interested in exploring the evolution of the political, economic and social lives, and roles, of women in the region.

An expansive gender divide within many Arab Gulf states is evident and many root causes — mainly revolving around cultural and social traditions — have been identified in the voluptuous body of literature focused on gender studies. However, in the context of fundamental reforms unfolding in the Arab Gulf, it is also clear that ascribed roles of women is rapidly undergoing considerable alteration and women are increasingly seen as active citizens making major contributions to the political, economic and social wellbeing of their community and state.

Significant differences do, of course, exist between each of the Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC). Some — re: Oman, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain — have already undergone major reforms and have, for decades, had women appointed as Ministers of State and other representatives. Others — re: Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait — there have long been more women than men in higher education and higher positions. Yet all the GCC states are scaling-up their efforts to create new spaces for their female citizens by confronting obstacles from within more conservative segments of society. The road is long but the GCC countries are definitively en route.

This series of Women in the Gulf will keep track of such changes as they happen. Building on the direct testimonies of women from the Gulf countries, the EGIC is committed to publishing: interviews, analyses, commentaries, surveys and on-the-ground research about the ever-changing role of women in the GCC.


In this, the first work addition to this series, we address the issue of women in business in Saudi Arabia. Almost a year has passed since the Saudi government published the recommendations of Vision 2030 to proactively promote entrepreneurship and increase the participation of women in the workforce by 20%. We will explore what has happened since then. To do so, the EGIC sat with Sara Alshareef, a PhD Candidate at Royal Holloway University in London in February 2017. Sara, a Saudi citizen herself, is wrapping up her research focusing on the opportunities and challenges faced by Saudi women entrepreneurs in starting a new business in the Kingdom. The research is based on extensive interviews and focus groups with Saudi female entrepreneurs inside the Kingdom and a smaller sample of interviews outside the Kingdom for comparison.