Saudi Arabia announces workplace protections for women

Labour ministry guidelines in line with plan to boost employment among Saudi women

FILE PHOTO: Women walk past a poster of Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during Janadriyah Cultural Festival on the outskirts of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia February 12, 2018. Picture taken February 12, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo
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Saudi Arabia has announced new regulations to ensure a "comfortable" working environment for women in the latest measure to encourage greater female participation in the workforce.

Directives issued by the Ministry for Labour and Social Development at the weekend said employers must create "a suitable environment for women to carry out their responsibilities" and ensure that women are paid equally with men.

There should be at least two women on shifts where men are also working, and women's work hours should not extend beyond 11pm except for those in the medical profession, the ministry said.

Women are also prohibited from working in industrial jobs that "would put their lives in danger", and employers and fellow workers must avoid actions that "exert pressure on a woman's freedom in the workplace".

Saudi Arabia has launched various campaigns to empower its female population as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's "Vision 2030" plan to modernise the country and accelerate economic development.

The crown prince has spoken repeatedly of giving women greater rights and protections. Last June, the kingdom lifted a ban on women driving, giving them greater mobility and independence. More than 120,000 Saudi women applied for driving licences in the first month after the ban was lifted, according to the interior ministry.

Last week, the Saudi health ministry issued a statement asserting a woman's right to manage her pregnancy without permission from her male guardian. This includes getting medical updates and whether to deliver naturally or by Caesarean section.

Health officials and medical workers said the ministry was simply making pregnant women aware of their rights.

"It was an awareness campaign to clarify that expecting mothers have the right to make a decision on such matters," a Health Ministry spokesman told The National.

Ahmed Al Boraie, a consultant at the International Medical Centre in Jeddah, said women had always the right to choose how they would give birth.

The ministry statement was "aimed at the public", Dr Al Boraie told The National. "While all doctors understand this and know it very well, this was to clarify the procedure to the public, patients and their husbands so that female patients are aware of their rights.

“I arrived in Jeddah in 2014 and while I have been here the system has always given the patient the right to choose for themselves what kind of procedure they want to have,” he said.

However, it was not uncommon for women who opted for a Caesarean section to ask their husband to sign the authorisation, Dr Al Boraie said.


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He said the only time a patient is unable to decide for herself is when she does not have the mental capacity or is physically incapable of giving her consent.

Leila Al Hilali, a family therapist based in Jeddah, said the ministry's announcement was a positive move to empower Saudi women, even though they had always had the freedom to choose how to give birth.

"This announcement is not new, I think it's merely a clarification on women's rights in the kingdom," she said.