The topic for the seminar was the economic inclusion of women, a topic that is important for both Norway and Saudi Arabia. The two countries’ journeys and experiences are quite different. Norway has a long history of working for the inclusion of women and now enjoys one of the greatest rates of equality in the world. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has experienced a massive improvement of the inclusion of women, both politically and economically, over a very short period of time.
Our speakers, Norwegian equality and anti-discrimination Ombud Hanne Bjurstrøm, General Manager for Almarai Sjur Fitje, Former Shura member Dr. Thoraya Obaid, and governor of the General Authority for Small and Medium Enterprises Dr. Ghassan Al Sulaiman, all made great contributions to the debate that was moderated by Hana AlSyead, Head of diversity at Olayan Financing Company. The audience also contributed with comments, experiences and questions, resulting in a dynamic and engaging debate.
The economics of equality
A 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report found that $12 trillion can be added to the global GDP by 2025 by advancing women’s equality. If women played an identical role in labor markets to that of men, as much as $28 trillion could be added to global annual GDP by 2025. Gender equality is therefore not only a pressing moral and social issue but also a critical economic challenge, and the economic inclusion of women is an important issue for both countries.
In April 2016 Saudi Arabia published its Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to diversify and modernise the country’s economy. The decline in the oil price has forced Saudi Arabia see the potential economic benefits of utilising their human capital, including women. And there is a huge potential; 60 % of all higher degree students are female. The National Transformation Plan states that the women’s share of the workforce should be increased from 22% to 30%.
The number of employed women in Norway has more than doubled since 1972, however, 35% of employed women in Norway work part time compared to 14% of men. If the number of working women continued as in 1972, Norway would have been $400 billion poorer than it is now. And if the number of employed women and men was the same in this period, Norway would have been $280 billion richer.
“I hope that this seminar will give us the opportunity to learn about – and also from - each other’s journeys. Most of all, I hope it will encourage further cooperation on this very important issue.” Ambassador Hansen said in his opening speech.
The seminar did indeed give us the opportunity to learn about each other’s successes and challenges. It became evident that we do, in fact, have a lot in common, both in challenges and goals for the future.
The Ambassador concluded the event with pointing out that “we look forward to having more bilateral discussions such as this one which will not only help in bridging cultural understanding, but also provide the platform for sharing knowledge, experience and best practices on the subjects that really matter, such as the economic inclusion of women”.