GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
Female Employment and the Saudisation Policy (Nitaqat) in Saudi Arabia.
Paper Proposal Text :
In Saudi Arabia in 2011, nationals’ unemployment levels peaked at 12.6 percent. However, this average figure hides the extent of the gender gap, as the enrolment of Saudi nationals is concerned: unemployment rates are 7.6 percent for the men, as opposed to 33.4 percent for women. For the youngest age groups alone (15-29 years), 17.5 percent of men are without a job; while as many as 60.3 percent of young women are unemployed. Such an astonishing gender gap does not translate into massive numbers of jobless females, due to the fact that Saudi women have a low rate of activity (15.2 percent only, and 30.9 percent for the most active age group, that of 30-34 years). However, female unemployment figures raise two questions: 1- do the vast numbers of foreign labourers in the Kingdom (56 percent of the employed population) actually deprive Saudi females of employment opportunities and 2- to what extent are the policies of Saudisation of the work force and especially, the Nitaqat policy launched in September 2011, likely to replace foreign labourers with Saudi women and create, therefore, more opportunities for the latter?

The proposed contribution addresses the two questions, using demographic data and the theoretical framework of political demography. The first part will first assess the levels of female activity and explore possible reasons behind these low rates. We shall review available statistical data pertaining to females’ education levels and characteristics, as well as to the recent evolution of Saudi females’ nuptiality and fertility behaviours. Our intention is to assess whether females’ low activity rates still combine with early and intense marriage patterns, as was witnessed until the 1990s in most GCC and Middle-Eastern rentier and semi-rentier States. Second, using the vast amount of labour data made available by the yearly Labour Force Surveys and (less comprehensive) Ministry of Labour’ data, we will focus on employed females and compare their patterns of employment with that of non-nationals, males and females. We will thus figure out how gender and nationality hierarchies have evolved over recent years, under the effect of previous Saudisation policies enacted since the 1990s. In a third chapter, we will concentrate on the measures taken within the realm of the Nitaqat policy, which set sectorial Saudisation quotas as well as aim at developing female employment. The policies may illustrate, more specifically, to what extent the Saudisation measures targeting women introduced a new dimension, that of class hierarchies, in the gender and nationality hierarchies. Our main conclusion is that female employment may not be necessarily at the expense of foreign migration to the GCC countries, at least in the near future. Saudisation policies, which promote females’ employment as a way to improve Saudisation quotas, may have a political rather than an economic effect: that of making females major actors of social change and shift the previous major divide, that opposing, nationals and non-nationals.