Tag Archives: unemployment

14,300 applications per day

On April 23rd newspapers reported that 100,000 applicants applied within one week of first announcing vacancies in women government jobs. While a month before it took three weeks to get 50,000 applicants for men government jobs. And the report quietly disappeared without much fuss about its implications and the hopelessness that Saudi women are going through. Yes it’s true that education is free and the majority of these women never had to pay tuition fees on school or university, actually they were given a monthly allowance (stipend) for studying after high school. Saudis have been paid to study since higher education first opened in the country as a way to get more people literate faster. And it worked because just three generations ago literacy was less than 50%.

 It worked so well that most people younger than forty have a college degree. And even though women studied and graduated in larger numbers than men, yet it seems like they are expected to think of the whole educational experience as a past-time or just something to make them more desirable as marriage material. Now that all the segregated fields (mostly education) are bursting at the seams with all that human resources, the rest of these women have nowhere to go and little money to spend.

To have a hundred thousand applicants in one week in a part of society with which mobility is an issue should be a matter of great concern, especially considering that there are over 5 million migrant workers taking up jobs like selling lingerie, waiters and chefs and even our hotel industry is mostly run by non Saudis. All the while, Saudi women wilt at home waiting for the government to employ them in jobs that are proper for them to take. Because if they don’t take up something proper they are very likely to have our society drag their reputation and that of their families in the mud. Society does this in its own quiet way without much word getting back to the women concerned. The only apparent sign is a dry up in the number of suitors to all the daughters of that family. Just this week a Saudi news website gave this cultural punishment to a group of Saudi women journalists in a much louder form. The website reported that these lady reporters slept with their editors, smoked pot, drank and had so-called red nights at vacation houses on the outskirts of the city. And I’m glad to say that these women are fighting back with a lawsuit against the website. A lawsuit that the ladies are highly likely to win because our courts tend to bring the hammer down hard when it comes to making outright false allegations that tarnish family honor.  

 Financial gain in the form of student stipends and later employment salaries has gotten women over the mountain of family consent to study and then teach. Even the most conservative daddies and hubbies just can’t resist that boost to the family income. With the economy slowing down and the rise in living costs, financial gain might again come to the rescue of women in the form of larger numbers of families no longer being able to afford drivers and in expanding society’s definition of proper jobs for women.

For more on the topic you can read an earlier  post. And this post from the Susie of Arabia blog.


Filed under Gender Apartheid, Informative, unemployment

The Unemployment Rate and Saudi Women

The fifth of November was the deadline for applying for administrative and technical jobs at the new Princess Nora University in Riyadh. There were 218 positions available and the number of applicants was 40000 women and according to the Alwatan news channel the number was closer to 46000. So that is an average of 211 applicants per vacancy! And this is only in Riyadh, although it is the biggest city in the kingdom. Still that is a large number considering the fact that there are over 5 and a half million expatriates in the country, many of whom were brought in to do the very same kind of jobs these unfortunate women applied for. So many women looking for jobs that exist but are out of their reach because of numerous issues. Some of these issues are:

  • One important problem is that expatriates are willing to do these very same jobs for a lot less and for longer hours.
  • Gender also plays a major role since segregation is imposed on almost all sectors.
  • The women might have the right credentials on paper but when you come right down to it they aren’t trained at all. To illustrate I will tell you of three incidents of many that I have come across. The first was concerning a newly appointed computer engineer at one of my workplaces. She was Saudi and had just graduated from a five year program from a major Saudi university. She did not know how to hook up a printer to a computer and had to have a secretary show her. Another very common issue is with the Saudi English teachers at our schools. There are so many times that I have come across quizzes and exams where I had to first correct the questions because they were so full of grammatical and spelling mistakes before I could look at how the students performed. And don’t ever bother asking a Saudi librarian for help, she’s probably just as lost as you are if not more so. Why is this? Because at many of our educational institutes, we only go through the act of teaching and not really teach and train our students for the real world. Unlike the other issues, this problem is being addressed currently and many of these institutes are going through significant changes for the better.
  • We have an overwhelming epidemic of passivity. Maybe it is the heat but it is so disheartening to see the number of young men and women who are not passionate about anything. They act like old men and women at a nursing home. All they care about is their immediate comforts, living day to day in a fog of hopelessness. When I ask them why not do this or that they simply shrug their shoulders. In other countries 46000 applying for the same jobs would cause an outrage and people would take to the streets. A craze of patriotism would take over and heads of companies who do not have a substantial number of Saudis on their payrolls would see boycotts of their products…etc.
  • The final problem that faces women here is mobilization. I know that many people especially Saudis say that this is only a superficial symptom and that there is no urgency in addressing it. I say otherwise. Driving and being able to get around is a major obstacle facing thousands if not millions of women all across the country. 46000 women who were able to reach the university to apply, I wonder how many sat at home begging a brother, father or husband to take them.


Filed under Culture, Education, Gender Apartheid, unemployment

The Saudi Poverty Line and Freedom of Press

The minister of Social Affairs recently made a statement that there are 1.5 million Saudis under the poverty line. Everyone knows that there are poor in Saudi but to have it stated as such a matter of fact has gotten some to take notice. Two quite outspoken Saudis just won’t let it go. The first is Mohammed Al Ritayan from Al Watan Newspaper. He has written two articles on the issue. The latest was published yesterday. In the beginning he sarcastically comments on how expensive the minister’s office furniture looks in the interview photos. Then he moves on to make mathematical calculations that prove that the minister’s number was underestimated. He argues that the real number of poor is no less than 25% of all Saudis. Then he ends the article with a remark that regardless of whether his calculation are correct or not, even the minister’s number is shameful considering that Saudi Arabia is one of the richest countries in the world!

The second Saudi to speak out is a social activist, Trad Al Asmari. He has gone one step further by producing and directing a documentary on Saudi Arabia’s poor. In it a Saudi security guard recounts his struggle.


Title: My salary is one thousand riyals (267 dollars)

Security Guard: “No accommodations, no insurance, no education, no hospital expenses cover, not even for our kids. They (employer) give us absolutely nothing. They won’t even give us health insurance. They basically just give us our salaries and say good-bye. Now I’ve been working here for three to four years. I should have at least health insurance. I live in this misery. I should at least be covered under the company’s health insurance plan. But no, three years and still I am at loss.”

Newspaper headline: Saudi family under the claw of poverty: Only dream is to own a tent

Director’s question: Is every working Saudi outside the circle of poverty?

Security guard: “My whole salary is 1200 to 1300 riyals. It is not enough for rent, my kid’s expenses, school supplies. We have kids, we have…lots of things. It’s not enough. 800 goes to rent. I end up with maybe 300 riyals. It’s not enough with six kids and household expenses…water…electricity. It doesn’t cover it all.”

Director’s note: For a Saudi, it takes 1600 riyals monthly to sustain them without factoring in rent. Accordingly, a monthly income of 1200 is considered beneath the poverty line.

Director’s note: The courage of a King

King Abdullah quote: “Hearing of is not like seeing and responsibility goes beyond offices. The problem of poverty cannot be cured improvisationally.”

Newspaper headline: The King visits poor districts

Director’s note: The king of the people and friend to the poor


There are some who deny their (the poor’s) existence

Newspaper headline: Government committee finishes discussing poverty in one meeting and ensures the limitedness of the problem.

Director’s note: Why deny their existence?

Security guard: “In this problem we are lost. We can’t do anything and every time we try to complain no one listens and they keep throwing blame around. Everyone I go to tells me it’s not their job. You can never get answers. No one takes responsibility. “

Director’s note:  They live among us

They are hurt and too modest to beg

Quran verse translation: (Charity is) for those in need, who, in Allah’s cause are restricted (from travel), and cannot move about in the land, seeking (For trade or work): the ignorant man thinks, because of their modesty, that they are free from want. Thou shalt know them by their (Unfailing) mark: They beg not importunately from all the sundry. And whatever of good ye give, be assured Allah knoweth it well.

Security guard: “Of course I finish work at eight completely tired out. I barely have time to see my family over dinner and then it’s another day’s work. So I can’t make any good use of my time. I don’t even have time to spend with my kids.I can’t take them out. I only go to and from work, from 8am to 8pm. We as Saudis should get our complete rights.”

Director’s note: One saudi citizen asks

Who says I don’t live here?

Poverty is a huge problem here with more and more people falling into it because of inflation. Logically with the demand on expatriate workers, this should not be. The government won’t assign a minimum wage and I can see their point of view. With millions if not billions of riyals seeping out of the country through expatriate workers’ salaries, assigning a minimum wage would only raise the money going out. And even though nationality discrimination  is widely accepted here, fortunately, the government will not stoop that low. The issue is multi-dimensional and the solution is beyond me. However to have these two men  openly speak out and criticize without fear of prosecution is a tremendous step forward.

On a more personal note, last year I drew up a complete business plan for an after school center. The plan provided part-time jobs for seven Saudi women with a minimum salary of 3000 riyals. My target employee was enthusiastic college students or young school teachers looking for a second job. And my target clientele was two income families whose both parents have full time jobs i.e. mothers who hold jobs in the medical or banking sector. I had an investor signed up. All I needed was to launch the project. But I had to put the whole thing on the back burner because of all the red tape and bureaucratic nonsense.


Filed under Uncategorized