RIYADH: A large portion of the Kingdom’s wealth is in the hands of its women who are believed to be sitting on cash totaling $11.9 billion.
“The Kingdom has a veritable treasure trove of human and financial capital in the form of its women who control a large portion of the country’s wealth,” said a report released on Monday by the Cayman Islands-based asset management firm Al-Masah Capital.
Women constitute almost 45 percent of the country’s population, and have a literacy rate of 79 percent. Yet, only 65 percent of them are employed, revealing the huge potential for women employment. In fact 78.3 percent of unemployed women are university graduates.
The report, titled “The Saudi Woman — A catalyst for change,” stated that women could become a major growth driver for the country’s diversification policy with their considerable wealth, which is lying idle, being channeled into the country’s money supply.
“Increasing the contribution of women in key economic sectors can speed up economic diversification. Effective channeling of the huge funds held by Saudi women that currently yield negligible returns into enterprises or investment activities can earn profitable returns as well as boost money supply,” said Shailesh Dash, founder of Al-Masah Capital.
Saudi women are not alone. Women in the Middle East controlled 22 percent or $0.7 trillion of the region’s total assets under management (AUM) in 2009. The region, consequently, ranked fifth globally in terms of AUM controlled by women.
“Women in Saudi Arabia account for a potential pool of human and financial capital with the power and ability to bring about significant social and economic change. But, this can only be done within the right parameters,” he said, adding that the change ought to be evolutionary.
“This will not be effective and long lasting if it is done outside the current norms and social etiquettes of Saudi Arabia. For this change to be effective, it needs to grow and develop organically within the boundaries of what is acceptable and understandable in Saudi society.
“The true potential lies in this development happening in parallel with positive growth in the mindset of society. Only then will we see the real impact of the Saudi woman,” said Dash.
Saudi Arabia also had the lowest national women labor participation rate, which was put at 20.1 percent in 2009 compared to neighboring countries like Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
Toward that end, establishing a just workplace for both men and women can generate significant economic value. Greater educational support for women to take up jobs in IT and communications can increase the government’s return on investments in the country’s education system.
While the government was the largest employer of women in the country, their exposure to the private sector was minimal accounting for a mere 0.8 percent of total private sector employees.
Women resources can help aid Saudi Arabia in its diversification efforts from oil wealth, fostering employment opportunities on the one hand and a business-enabling environment for women entrepreneurs on the other. This is the need of the hour given their significant human capital and financial muscle, said Dash, adding that public and private sector policy should be targeted toward it.