The Impact of Labor Nationalization Policies on Female Participation Rates in the Arab Gulf

Rutledge, Emilie and Al Shamsi, Fatima (2016). The Impact of Labor Nationalization Policies on Female Participation Rates in the Arab Gulf. In: Chamlou, Nadereh and Karshenas, Massoud eds. Women, Work and Welfare in the Middle East and North Africa: The Role of Socio-demographics, Entrepreneurship and Public Policies. London, UK: Imperial College Press, pp. 525–551.



Based on interviews with policymakers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, this chapter finds that although existing labor nationalization policies have led to small increases in female participation rates, these countries will need to undertake more systemic socioeconomic reform if they are to better capitalize on the ‘valuable human resource asset’ that women are said to constitute. Compared with male nationals, female nationals in the Arabian Gulf achieve higher grades in education and obtain considerably more vocationally oriented tertiary-level qualifications. But cultural attitudes, alongside structural issues, continue to bar their employment in the private sector. The issue is of contemporary importance, as the key domestic policy challenge faced by the region is said to be growing levels of national unemployment. The challenge is compounded by the Gulf's pyramid-style demographic profile and the fact that the respective public sectors, which have been the de facto employer to date, can no longer accommodate most of the people now seeking to join the workforce. The consensus view among interviewees is that labor nationalization policy will need to feature strategies to normalize the role of women nationals pursuing a private-sector career.

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