Cracking the Glass Ceiling
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.
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.
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.