Female employment and family commitment in Saudi Arabia : a case study of Riyadh City
This study argues that ideological rather than material constraints are the major obstacles that limit full female participation in the Saudi Arabian labour force and hinder Saudi working women from combining their double roles as mothers and paid workers. As a developing country, Saudi Arabia is facing multiple problems. One of these challenges is the great shortage of human resources. In 1984/85, 59.8 per cent of the labour force in Saudi society was foreign. Female participation in waged employment is very low with only 5.1 per cent of women of working age participating in the labour force. This ethnography focuses especially on working mothers in Riyadh and is based principally on intensive interviews with fifty women holding posts in the full range of women's occupations in Saudi Arabia. After two general ethnographic chapters which outline Saudi women's lifestyle in the pre-oil and the modern periods, this thesis considers in detail women's activities in their paid employment and domestic roles. Special attention is given to Saudi ideologies which restrict women's participation in the labour force, in particular Saudi conceptions of male and female relations. One of the main arguments is that Islam in itself is not responsible for women's limited participation in the labour force, rather it is the interpretation of Islam which is heavily affected by socio-political factors in Saudi society. Many studies of working women in Western countries concentrate on the phenomenon of the "double day" that working women face when they undertake a paid job in addition to their domestic responsibilities. According to this view, material constraints constitute the major problem of working women. Authors arguing from this view point assume that the availability of domestic replacements would solve the major problems experienced by these working women. The present thesis argues that material constraints are not the main problem of working women in Riyadh. The influx of wealth has enabled many families to employ domestic help but, nevertheless, many working women still suffer from their conflicting double roles. According to Saudi cultural beliefs, nature determines the sexual division of labour. Women are assumed to be mothers and housewives, and men are assumed to be the breadwinners of their families. The concept of a woman's "career" does not exist in Saudi society. A women's career is her home and children. There are three types of cultural and attitudinal factors that challenge Saudi working women. Firstly, there is women's conception of themselves. Women always locate themselves within the dominant culture which is greatly affected by male representations. Secondly, people's attitudes towards women's work play an important role In helping or hindering women to combine their double roles. Finally, there is the issue of husbands' support for their working wives. Because Saudi Arabia is a male-dominated society, husbands play an especially significant role in their wives' lives. They can be a great source of support and help, or they can be a source of frustration.