Saudi Arabia presses ahead with pro-women reforms

New guidelines ensure equal pay for men and women doing the same job.
Friday 25/01/2019
A Saudi female job seeker is seen at the Glowork Women's Career Fair, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 1, 2018. (Reuters)
A Saudi female job seeker is seen at the Glowork Women's Career Fair, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 1, 2018. (Reuters)

LONDON - The Saudi government pressed ahead with its promotion of rights of women with guidelines that address how female employees are to be treated in the workplace.

The Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Labour and Social Development issued the measures January 21 to open new fields of activity for women and provide a safer workplace environment for female employees.

The guidelines ensure equal pay for men and women doing the same job and dedicated workspace facilities for female employees. They also expand the role for female workers in work from 6pm-6am in sectors such as health care.

Separate guidelines spell out rules for "safe working conditions" for women and provide mixed-gender work arrangements.

The kingdom’s Consultative Council endorsed banning marriages for under the age of 15. The law sets rules for anyone between aged 15-17 wanting to marry, including the need to produce a medical report to qualify, the Saudi Gazette reported.

Shura Council member Latifa al-Shaalan called the law "a progressive step forward that was not easy to reach."

"My personal opinion is that, in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we are fast approaching the establishment of a legal system that will prevent marriage for those under 18," she said.

“There were no marriage limitations before, so prohibiting the marriage of children under 15 is a huge accomplishment because it will be protecting young boys and girls,” council member Lina Almaeena told Thomson Reuters.

The Shura Council can propose laws but all legislation in Saudi Arabia is ultimately approved by the king.

In the last several years -- and mostly tied to Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan -- Saudi women have seen meaningful changes.

Significantly tied to economic reform were social reforms, including the reversal of the women’s driving ban, easing aspects of the kingdom’s male guardianship system, granting women independent access to government services, jobs, education and health care without the need for prior consent.

The Saudi Ministry of Health announced that pregnant women no longer need a guardian’s consent regarding the type of childbirth procedure they would undergo. The ministry said it was up to the expecting mother if she would like someone to accompany her at the birth, whether it be a family member or friends.

Grabbing more international attention, however, was the case of Rahaf Mohammed Alqunun, an 18-year-old Saudi woman who was granted asylum in Canada after alleged abuse from her family members, which they deny.

Some Saudis and Gulf Arabs expressed disagreement with the attention Algunun received, claiming that a family matter had been politicised to soil the kingdom's reputation.