Saudi women have proven time and again that they are far more efficient than their male counterparts, but the ‘She can’t do this, she can’t do that because she is a woman’ attitude that prevails in the minds of these dull-minded men has resulted in very meagre offerings Image Credit: LUIS VAZQUEZ/ Gulf News

The UAE has in recent years proven to be a land of opportunity not just for those from faraway lands, but for many seeking similar opportunities from neighbouring countries within the Gulf Cooperation Council, and specifically from Saudi Arabia, one of the world's richest countries.

In that the bulk of those moving to the UAE from Saudi Arabia are Saudi women is not surprising. With a western education and qualifications, many have quickly found opportunities in Saudi-based businesses in the UAE such as the MBC media empire or other such enterprises.

Others have established their own businesses and are seemingly successful at it. While official numbers do not exist for this group of professionals, some sources have put the number close to 8,000 such individuals.

Now why would a native woman professional leave her country, and a wealthy one at that, to move to a foreign country, albeit a neighbour, to seek opportunities? The Saudi economy is the unquestioned giant in the region if you will, and yet some of its own people have chosen their destiny elsewhere. Why?

An encounter with an acquaintance who I call Hisham somewhat summed up some of the basic reasons. He called me up the other day in a rather perturbed state of mind. A middle-aged man whose roots are in Jeddah, Hisham is a father of an only child, a daughter who just turned 23. And the source of his anxiety was that his offspring had decided to move to a neighbouring Gulf state to pursue her professional career.

A recent graduate of media and communications from Stanford University in California , his daughter had decided to call it quits in her job search in the local market. I suggested we meet over a cup of coffee to discuss this further.

Moving on

That evening, Hisham began by imploring me to highlight this disturbing trend in one of my columns, whereby Saudi women graduates are giving up hope of finding suitable jobs and looking to nearby countries.

"Get off the political bandwagon for a while and focus on this social issue. I am not getting younger, and the thought of my only child leaving me through no fault of her own is causing me and my wife a great deal of concern," he added.

"But Hisham, there seem to be plenty of opportunities of employment here for the qualified, from what I see. Besides, recently there was an announcement of a nine-point plan approved by the government to create more jobs and allow more opportunities for women. I sense the government is serious about it."

"Yes Tariq, the government may take such steps, but who is going to implement these laws? Bureaucrats who sit on issues for years until they are dead and buried or long forgotten? You should know better. How many laws have been passed over the years, and how many of them have been actually carried out?"

I had to agree. I have to add that Saudi Arabia has one of the most dormant and ineffectual bureaucracies around. One that continues to promote frustration rather than execution.

Due to a lack of public accountability and transparency, a new army of ineffectual public servants has come to be entrenched in the various public sectors. And that includes the Ministry of Labour.

Hisham said: "And then there are the extremists who continuously block every attempt to allow suitable employment for women. You saw what happened when a couple of supermarkets tried to hire female cashiers? It did not sit kindly with some of our leading clerics who issued immediate fatwas [edicts] against such employment. They just don't want women in the market place."

Hisham continued: "Besides, Tariq, my daughter did try. She knocked on many doors. But the media outlets here are limited in scope and imagination. They are even more limited when it comes to women. The best she could hope for is a position as a secretary working for a Saudi man far less experienced than her.

"Saudi women have proven time and again that they are far more efficient than their male counterparts, but the ‘She can't do this, she can't do that because she is a woman' attitude that prevails in the minds of these dull-minded men has resulted in very meagre offerings.

"For a young qualified graduate ready to take on the world, it was very depressing and disheartening to have to go through this kind of mental letdown. And all because of her gender! Why did I bother to educate her, I'm beginning to wonder. For her to be told that?

"And while it pains my wife and I to see her leave, we want her to go. To soar with the eagles rather than be shot down like clay pigeons. And if she falters and falls, we will be there quickly to help her fly again," he surmised woefully.

All this in a country recently ranked among the top five richest nations in the world, and in the top fifteen in ease of establishing business?

- Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.