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Saudi Arabia in Focus Special – Women in Saudi Arabia – May 2017

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has made made it a priority to extend gender equality and further empower women in Saudi Arabia, and is proud to have been elected to a position on the UN Commission for the Status of Women. Our latest special edition reviews the huge progress that has been made in women’s empowerment, looks ahead to the advances still to come, and celebrates just some of the Saudi women who have reached the top of their professions.

Saudi Arabia and Political, Economic & Social Development – May 2017

The development of Saudi Arabia is not a recent phenomenon. It is a steady project of modernization, in which each generation builds on the progress of its antecedents. For decades, Saudi Arabia has made an effort to improve the lives of its citizens – using the wealth generated from the Kingdom’s natural resources to fund the social and economic development of the nation. Every measure of human development – life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy, per capita income, etc. – has improved dramatically in the span of a single generation.

In this new white paper, we set out our plans to harness the challenges and opportunities of the new generation as new impetus for development. Vision 2030, the ambitious program of development for the Kingdom unveiled by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in April 2016, seeks to build on Saudi Arabia’s strengths as an investment powerhouse situated in the heart of the Arab and Islamic worlds, with strong geographic connections to Europe, Asia and Africa. The Vision 2030 plan outlines 24 specific goals for the Kingdom to achieve in economic, political and societal development. Vision 2030 further articulates 18 commitments to achieve these goals – with specific initiatives in renewable energy, manufacturing, education, e-governance, entertainment and culture.

  • May 16, 2017

Today marks International Women’s Day, an occasion on which to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the globe. Over recent decades, the world has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women’s and society’s thoughts about women’s equality. And this counts for Saudi Arabia as it does for the EU’s member states.

Despite having a different system of values, traditions and governance, Saudi Arabia too is changing, and is putting women at the forefront of its transition into the future. Indeed, the role of women is anchored in Vision 2030, the Saudi government’s ambitious economic reform plan, that will boost women’s participation in the workforce from 22 to 30 percent by the end of the next decade.

Already, over the last ten years, women’s employment in Saudi Arabia has increased by 48 percent women, and women outnumber men in Saudi universities. Only last month, Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange – the Tadawul – took the historic step of appointing Sarah Al Suhaimi to the position of chairperson, the first woman to ever hold the position. The announcement was followed by the appointment of Rania Mahmoud Nashar to the position of chief executive of Samba Financial Group, one of Saudi Arabia’s largest national banks.

In the political sphere too, women now represent around 20 percent of the Shoura council’s 150 members, a greater proportion than women in the US Congress according to the World Bank. Equally it was announced earlier this year that Arabia Gulf Air is expanding the variety of roles available to Saudi women, who are now in charge of customer service, data input, passenger information verification, boarding passengers and providing services to first-class passengers, families and people with special needs.

The appointment of women to increasingly diverse roles at different levels of society shows Saudi Arabia’s resolve to boost the presence of women among all levels of its workforce as part of the Vision 2030 roadmap for economic success. The future is brighter than ever.

The remarkable contribution of women to Saudi society is showcased in a book by Dr Mona Salahuddin AlMunajjed, Saudi Women: A Celebration of Success. Dr AlMunajjed is an award-winning and prominent sociologist in her own right, and her work celebrates the success of women in acting as the driving force behind the Kingdom’s development through the 21st century. She demonstrates how the empowerment of women can have social and economic benefits, engendering positive changes through increased creativity and innovation.

There is of course still much progress to be made, and Vision 2030 includes a number of other reform strategies that will see the Kingdom to develop women’s talents, invest in their productive capabilities and enable them to strengthen their future and contribute to the development of the Saudi society and economy. We look forward to Saudi women making crucial contributions in the economic transformation launched by Vision 2030 and securing prosperity for the Kingdom’s future.

The spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human RightsMs. Ravina Shamdasani, spoke this week about the numerous reports received on the recruitment of children in Yemen in the armed conflict, mostly by the Popular Committees affiliated with the Houthi rebels. According to the spokesperson, “between 26 March 2015 and 31 January 2017, the UN has verified the recruitment of 1,476 children, all boys. However the numbers are likely to be much higher as most families are not willing to talk about the recruitment of their children, for fear of reprisals.”

Miss Shamdasani added, “just last week, we received new reports of children who were recruited without the knowledge of their families. Children under the age of 18 often join the fighting after either being misled or attracted by promises of financial rewards or social status. Many are then quickly sent to the front lines of the conflict or tasked with manning checkpoints.”

The UN has urged the party concerned to immediately release such children and reminded that the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict is strictly forbidden by international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and when concerning cases of recruitment of children under fifteen may amount to a war crime.

 

In a statement issued today, the Saudi-led Arab Coalition to Support Legitimacy in Yemen restated its commitment to protecting civilians in Yemen and underscored the steps the alliance has taken to avoid causalities in an ongoing war zone. Among those steps, the Coalition has launched an independent assessment team, fostered active partnerships with relief organizations and focused on safeguarding Yemen’s urban centers as part of a concerted effort to protect civilians and uphold international humanitarian law.

 

The Coalition’s Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) is composed of military members, weapons experts and legal specialists in humanitarian rights. The independent group reviews reports of Coalition activities that are known to have led to civilian casualties, and offers recommendations for ways to avoid future incidents.

 

Among the instituted mechanisms, the Coalition said that it has adopted—and has been following—the policy to issue repeated warnings to Houthi militias and Ali Abdullah Saleh forces so that they can evacuate cities prior to a Coalition air strike. The Coalition also has heightened its emphasis on safeguarding critical infrastructure and, as a result, civilian lives in Yemen’s urban centers.

 

The Coalition said that it works alongside United Nations agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross as part of a collaborative approach to minimize the possibility of harm to civilians, medical personnel, journalists and relief organizations.

 

The Coalition cited an August 2016 United Nations report that accused Houthi militias and coup forces of consistently violating the Geneva Convention by using civilians as human shields. Moreover, the Coalition stated that rebel forces use child soldiers and use revenge killings and illegal detentions to terrorize Yemen’s population.

  • February 15, 2017

The Cabinet of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud on Monday 16 January 2017 commended the announcement by the Ministry of Housing of the first steps of the My House Program including 280,000 of residential units at an investment of SR119.5 billion over the next three years. The construction projects, launched in partnership with the private sector, will be offered to Saudi families according to income criteria and the number of family’s members. The housing units will be allocated during the current year as of next month to be completed within a maximum of three years. A total of 75,000 residential plots of land in several cities ready for construction will also be handed over to citizens, stated the report.  Financial support to 85,000 deserving citizens will also be provided in one year by the state. This will be done through a partnership between the Real Estate Development Fund, banks, and financing institutions.

The Saudi Cabinet has expressed its congratulations to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques on the occasion of his selection for winning King Faisal International Prize for Service to Islam this year in recognition of his care and service to the Two Holy Mosques and their visitors. Also praised were his Majesty’s attention to the Prophet’s biography, support for the project of Historical Atlas for the Prophet’s Life, and constant quest to unify the ranks of Arabs and Muslims to confront the difficult conditions being witnessed by Arab and Islamic nations.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz has issued a royal decree outlining Saudi Arabia’s 2017 budget. The 2017 budget is estimated to reach SAR 890 billion ($237.3), an 8 percent increase from 2016, and is projected to reflect a record 33 percent decrease in the Kingdom’s national deficit.
 
“Our economy is firm and it has sufficient strength to cope with the current economic and financial challenges,” said King Salman. “We have sought through this budget and its programs to improve the efficiency of capital and operational expenditures in the state, strengthen the situation of public finances, enhance their sustainability, give priority to developmental and service projects and programs that serve citizens directly, contribute to activating the role of the private sector and increase its contribution to the Gross Domestic Product.”
 
In reaching these goals, the 2017 budget expenditures will focus primarily on the following key sectors:
  • Education: SAR 200 billion ($53.3 billion); This covers public education, higher education and training.

 

  • Military: SAR 191 billion ($51 billion); This will support and expand the Kingdom’s military capabilities.

 

  • Economic Resources and General Programs: SAR 155 billion ($41.3 billion); Among the key projects included is the expansion of the Grand Mosque.
 
  • Health and Social Development: SAR 120 billion ($32 billion); This will enable the construction and subsequent equipping of healthcare centers. 38 new hospitals are already in the process of being built.
 
  • Security and Regional Administration: SAR 97 billion ($25.8 billion); The establishment of naval bases for border guards will be among the new projects this budget will facilitate.
 
  • Municipality Services: SAR 55 billion ($14.6 billion); This includes the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs and municipalities.
 
  • Infrastructure and Transport: SAR 52 billion ($13.8 billion); This will go toward building roads, ports, railway, airports, postal services and developing industrial cities.
 
  • National Transformation Plan: SAR 42 billion ($11 billion); This will cover the costs of the NTP initiatives in 2017.

 

  • Public Administration: SAR 27 billion ($7.2 billion); This includes projects, programs and 46 new initiatives.
Revenue is projected to reach SAR 692 billion ($184.5 billion) in 2017, a 31 percent increase from initial projections. Oil revenues are expected to increase by 46 percent, and non-oil revenues are estimated to grow by 6.5 percent. Moreover, the budget deficit is expected to reach SAR 198 billion in 2017, reflecting 7.7 percent of the GDP. Combined, these efforts will move the Kingdom closer to its Vision 2030 goal of balancing the budget by 2020.
 
Saudi Arabia is a member of the G20 and ranks as the 29th most competitive economy in the world, according to World Economic Forum’s 2016-2017 Global Competitiveness Report.

It was on 19 November 2016 that the command of the Saudi-led Arab alliance in Yemen gave its support to a 48-hour UN-backed ceasefire. The hope was that this respite from the bloodshed would allow for the delivery of sorely needed humanitarian aid across the country. It was also very clear that cessation of hostilities could be extended if the Iran-allied Houthi militia abided by the terms of truce. Importantly, this included allowing the entry of aid to the besieged areas of the war-torn country, particularly Taiz City, Yemen’s third largest city. What was formally the country’s vibrant cultural capital is now almost completely surrounded by the Houthis and their allies. The suffering of the city’s inhabitants is immeasurable.

Ultimately, the aim of the ceasefire was to bring about a permanent and lasting end to the conflict through the reopening of diplomatic channels. Alas, the Pacification Committee of the Yemeni army recorded in excess of 70 breaches of the truce by Houthi forces  its allies in Taiz province, only moments after the ceasefire came into effect. These infringements included shelling with heavy and medium weapons and sniping that wounded two civilians. Militia fired artillery and mortar shells at people’s homes in Al-Salow District and bombed the Al-Tabadud Valley area. Mortar rounds and rockets rained down indiscriminately across the different areas of Taiz City. In total, the ceasefire was broken 563 times in Yemen and 163 times on the Saudi border, a coalition official confirmed.

Beyond the flagrant contravention of the ceasefire terms, Houthi forces have frequently launched missiles into Saudi Arabian territory. On one occasion, the Houthis even went as far as to target the Holy City of Makkah, the holiest site of the Muslim world. When such atrocities are regularly attempted by the Houthis, there can be no foundation of trust on which to base a ceasefire. Saudi Arabia necessarily reserves the right to act with the utmost caution in brokering such ceasefires with the Houthis, bearing in mind that the protection of our own citizens must be our priority.

In a latest development, Houthis and General People’s Congress have unilaterally announced the formation of a new government that had legitimacy or support from the internationally recognised Yemeni government. These actions have been condemned by the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh, who said, the move “represents a new and concerning obstacle to the peace process and does not serve the interests of the people of Yemen in these difficult times.” Equally, the Yemeni Prime Minister Ahmed bin Dagher said that Houthis and their allies are “certainly aware that they are undermining U.N. peace efforts when announcing a new government.”

We join Mr Ould Cheikh in his plea to the Houthis and the General People’s Congress to “re-think their approach & demonstrate their commitment to the peace process with concrete actions,” rather than illegitimate and damaging posturing. To end the conflict there must be a withdrawal from occupied cities, and a handing over arms to make way for a much-needed political process and reconstruction of the country.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia shares the international community’s challenges of climate change and its effects, and advocates for mutually beneficial resolutions to the issue. It is our sincere hope that the Conference of Parties, at its 22nd session (COP22), will sustain the momentum of last year’s COP 21 in Paris, where significant progress resulted in the first balanced universal climate agreement.

The COP 22 conference will focus on action items to achieve the balanced priorities of the Paris Agreement, especially in relation to adaptation, transparency, technology transfer, mitigation, capacity building, and loss and damages. We view the Paris Agreement as balanced and fair, and this will pave way to effective implementation in addressing our climate goals and sustainable development goals holistically.

It is encouraging to note that the Paris Agreement has achieved the threshold for entry into force, and Saudi Arabia is determined to see it implemented. In fact, we have managed to complete our ratification process of the Agreement before COP 22 in Marrakech and we are updating our environmental plan to ensure timely implementation.

Saudi Arabia hopes that as the “COP of Action,” COP 22 will produce an equitable outcome enabling sustainable economic and social development. Ever since the issue of climate change was brought to the world’s attention, the Kingdom has maintained a consistent view, calling for meaningful options that encompasses the concerns of developing nations under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

We continue to work towards our contributions as stipulated in our Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) submitted prior to COP 21 last year.

Our INDC commits us to actions and plans for economic diversification that have co-benefits in the form of greenhouse gas (GHG) emission avoidances and adaptation to the impacts of climate change.

Saudi Arabia is instrumental in delivering the vital energy that enables global economic growth and prosperity, and we have a track-record of doing so in the most reliable and sustainable way, in part through technology-enabled solutions. We are dedicated to smarter solutions and better systems, dedicated to sustainable development and progress.

Last year, the global community agreed that climate change and sustainable development goals need to be mutually supportive and reinforcing for both sets of objectives to succeed. Therefore, we must chart a collective path of utilizing all energy sources to a sustainable energy landscape that includes energy efficiency, renewables and other complementary energy technologies.

 Saudi Arabia believes that the international response to climate change must fully respect the principles and provisions of the UNFCCC, particularly the principle of ”common but differentiated responsibility” which must be the cornerstone of progress. It enables all countries—especially developing nations—to proactively contribute workable plans and solutions for climate action that take account of national priorities, capacities and circumstances, in keeping with the different stages of economic development.

Saudi Arabia is confident that through dialogue and collaboration, the international community can achieve an effective, pragmatic and meaningful approach to tackle this global challenge. I have no doubt that our discussions in Marrakech will produce a positive outcome for all.

His Excellency Khalid Al-Falih

Minister of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

  • November 4, 2016