Time for Suadis to Capitalize on Their Greatest Resource
Incredible. What's next, letting women vote, show their faces or look at a cartoon? Ghastly.
I have just read an article in The Economist about the changing pattern in parents’ attitudes toward their firstborn. Earlier surveys, especially in the developing world, showed that parents preferred to have a boy instead of a girl. That was a must in agricultural societies where a boy was a strong, extra hand in the field.
However, that belief now is changing — especially in the developing world, including Asia. Girls now are thought of as a better investment. The study found that girls get better grades than boys, graduate quicker and enter the job market faster. They are also excelling in investment and finance which were once exclusively the domain of men.
I have also noticed that the number of women financial analysts on television is increasing and that women are now often found in senior financial positions. After World War II, the number of women in the work force increased. The reason was that many had entered the work force while men were away in the military and when the war was over, they didn’t want to go back home. It wasn’t long before their sisters of working age wanted to work as well.
Today, two-thirds of American women work. Women make up half the US work force, and they are ignoring the gender barriers of the past.
Women are taking more senior-level positions and becoming more involved in the decision-making processes of both business and industry. This also gives them a stronger social and political voice which should contribute significantly to both stability and security in society.
In the Gulf states, there has been fair progress in women’s development; however, more needs to be done. Any society that neglects half its population assures its position as an also-ran among the nations of the world.
In Saudi Arabia, the number of female graduates is high, and women are taking on tasks that a few years ago might have seemed unimaginable. They are taking positions of responsibility, and they are succeeding because Saudi women are intelligent and eager to forge ahead and accept challenges. We should be helping them to succeed rather than debating whether they should try. Educating women is a very important piece of the economic puzzle and, once it is done, it is a piece we cannot afford to ignore or fail to use. This is a truth not lost on India or the Far East — places where national economies are racing forward and national dialogues focus on the next economic or financial sector with no attention paid to who should be allowed to play the game. Many of these nations are resource-poor except for their human populations. Imagine what a nation blessed by an abundance of natural resources would be able to do if it made its human resources the most important of all.
The problem we have in Saudi Arabia is twofold. The most pressing of which is how we can position ourselves in the super-competitive global economy and come out winners. As important for us is the internal challenge of how we can enable all the members of our work force — both men and women — to progress while keeping the fabric of our society intact.
It’s a difficult challenge, but it is a challenge upon which the future success or failure of our nation will depend. Ours is a faith-based country and that makes it an obligation, both to our children and our faith, to find a way forward or find ourselves in a situation in which both will suffer.
Part of that challenge is finding the way to make full use of our female talent. Our society must readjust its views and remove obstacles that make it harder for women to work and, at the same time, provide them with the flexibility to combine work with family life. We have to remember that well-educated Saudi women will not only be more productive, they will also raise healthier, better educated children.
If we had the luxury of time, it would be easy to say: Let those better-educated children figure out what to do. The fact is, however, that we do not have that luxury. It is incumbent upon us to find the way forward — and to do so as soon as possible. The good news is that we have an incredible, largely untapped resource, greater than our blessings of oil, natural gas and minerals. She wears an abaya and her time has come.