February 23, 2018

Cracking the Glass Ceiling

UAE Global Women's Forum
Emirati visitors attend the opening day of the Global Women’s Forum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

This series examines women’s labor force participation in the Gulf Arab states, including areas of growth as well as challenges facing women in the Gulf. It provides an overview of the major economic diversification efforts and social changes that GCC countries are undergoing to close the gender gap and increase women’s economic empowerment.


Cracking the Glass Ceiling: Gulf Women in Manufacturing

By Thuraiya Alhashmi

As Gulf Arab countries seek to diversify their economies away from oil, they have made major investments in the manufacturing sector, which contributes on average around 11 percent of gross domestic product in the region. Favorable tax regimes and the relatively low cost of establishing and operating industrial facilities in the region are major factors attracting investors and driving growth in the manufacturing sector. However, Gulf Cooperation Council manufacturing is highly dependent on male foreign workers from South Asia and there is a lack of skilled labor in the field among Gulf nationals, both male and female. Recent economic diversification initiatives across the Gulf Arab states such as nationalization programs in the private sector have helped shape policies to support the training and hiring of nationals, and improve women’s education and increase their participation in the workforce. Furthermore, the need for dual income households has prompted women to seek work, and economic diversification initiatives have provided opportunities in sectors such as manufacturing.
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Cracking the Glass Ceiling: Gulf Women in the Police

By Thuraiya Alhashmi

Saudi Arabia has recently announced decisions allowing women to apply for jobs in air traffic control, the traffic police, and the military, and to positions as investigators at the public prosecutor’s office. These decisions are made in line with Saudi Vision 2030, to increase women’s participation in the workforce from 22 to 30 percent. Such changes will transform Saudi society, where employment is dominated by men and guardianship laws are still prevalent.
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Cracking the Glass Ceiling: Gulf Women in Health Care

By Thuraiya Alhashmi

For many conservative people in the Gulf Arab states, practicing medicine as a woman is still unacceptable. The nature of the job requires long absences from home and family responsibilities. It also requires interaction with men, which is against traditional cultural values. According to a public opinion survey, Saudi men are less likely to marry doctors and nurses because of their jobs. The hashtag #ترضى_تتزوج_طبيبة (#wouldyoumarryadoctor) has been trending on Twitter since 2012. The majority of men using the hashtag had negative responses such as: “I will never marry a doctor or a nurse,” “Stay away from doctors and nurses,” or “I will marry a doctor based on her specialization.” Such perceptions prevent some women from pursuing a degree or career in health care. According to a study, choice of specialty for Saudi female physicians is limited by the prospect of interaction with adult males and availability of training in fields considered suitable for women. As a result, many Saudi female physicians specialize in fields related to women and children or nonclinical work to minimize prospect of interaction with adult men. In addition, dentistry and pharmacology are popular choices for females in the Gulf Arab states, as they allow for a better work-life balance compared to other specializations. In spite of these challenges, many women from the Gulf states have worked hard to overcome social stigmas in their communities.
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Cracking the Glass Ceiling: Arab Women in Technology

By Thuraiya Alhashmi

Globally, computer science and information technology majors in universities are dominated by men. However, in the Middle East, 40 percent of university students specializing in computer science and IT are women. The percentage is even higher in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where women represent 70-80 percent of computer science and IT students compared to 15-20 percent in the United States. Young women in the Middle East majoring in computer science and IT don’t have the perception that it is a man’s field.
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