The Saudi ambassador to the US also briefly touched on the kingdom’s ban on women driving.
This week, the kingdom’s Prince Khaled bin Salman opened up about the nation’s evolution, shortly after taking up the role of Saudi’s ambassador to the United States.
The son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz – and brother of newly-appointed Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – admitted “every country moves forward, and we are”, in a new interview.
“The last two years have been a time of big change in our country,” the royal told the Washington Post this week.
“Human rights have been moving forward, women’s rights have been moving forward. Saudi youth have been given a chance to play a part in our future.”
Indeed, there has been a shift in women’s opportunities in recent times, with more Saudi females being appointed to top jobs, a royal directive that allows women to use certain government services without a male guardian’s consent, and recent approval for the go-ahead of women’s gyms.
Still, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where it’s illegal for women to drive, an issue often brought up by women’s rights advocates.
And it was a subject raised with Prince Khaled, who didn’t confirm if the ban would be relaxed, but said: “Our leadership realises that women are important to our future and to moving our economy forward”.
“We can’t move forward without half of our population,” he added.
The royal also touched upon his brother’s recent promotion to the role of Crown Prince, a move which many media outlets and Saudi commentators have suggested could herald a shift towards a more modernised kingdom.
“We now have a dynamic young leadership, determined to push the country forward and to diversify our economy,” said Prince Khaled.
The young Crown Prince spearheaded Saudi’s Vision 2030, a post-oil economy plan under which the government aims to increase the percentage of women in the nation’s workforce from 23 per cent to 28 per cent by 2020.
As part of the plan, the Ministry of Labour and Social Development has launched a project to allow women to work from home, to alleviate childcare and transportation issues.
And it seems to be working – women now make up around 30 per cent of Saudi’s private sector workforce, local newspaper Al Eqtisadiya reported recently, compared to 12 per cent in 2011.
In fact, Saudi Arabia has seen a 130 per cent increase in the number of female nationals working in the private sector in the last four years, Gulf News reports.
If things continue at this pace, those Vision 2030 goals definitely look achievable…