Saudi Arabia pledges 'full support' for G20 gender equality declaration amid continued crackdown on women's rights activists

Saudi Arabia pledges 'full support' for G20 gender equality declaration amid continued crackdown on women's rights activists
Saudi Arabia has pledged its 'full support' for a G20 declaration on gender equality, amid continued reports of legal and societal discrimination faced by Saudi women.
3 min read
24 June, 2021
G20 leaders in Brisbane 2014 agreed a target of bringing 100 million women into the labour market by 2025 [Getty]

Saudi Arabia and other G20 countries have pledged to promote women's work and gender equality in the labour market following an international employment summit on Wednesday in Italy.

The G20 Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting, attended by the world’s major economies, produced a 25-page declaration setting targets for gender equality in the workplace and promoting female labour through social benefits and eliminating discouraging laws.

Saudi Arabia pledged its "full support" for the declaration. 

"These are extremely relevant and important policy priority areas for each of the G20 countries and nations of the world," Saudi minister of human resources and social development Ahmed bin Suleiman Al-Rajhi said.

The minister said Riyadh had already "demonstrated tremendous progress in achieving the Brisbane Target", which was set by the G20 in 2014 and aimed to bring 100 million women into the labour market by 2025. 

Suleiman added that Saudi Arabia had reduced the gender participation gap, the difference between men and women workers, by 27 percent from 2014 to 2020 and was currently exceeding targets in terms of women's participation.

Highlights from the Remarks made by HRSD Minister Eng. Alrajhi during the #G20 Labour & Employment Ministerial Meeting in Italy 2021.

— وزارة الموارد البشرية والتنمية الاجتماعية (@HRSD_SA) June 23, 2021

Meanwhile, the United Nations and human rights organisations have reported that Saudi women continue to face extensive legal and societal discrimination, despite recent advances in the Kingdom encouraging greater female participation in public life, such as obtaining driving and business licenses without a male guardian. 

Disparities exist between men's and women's experiences of "unpaid care and domestic work and key labour market indicators, such as the gender pay gap", according to UN Women. 

A lot of the data needed to assess Saudi Arabia's progress on gender equality is not known, said UN Women. 

Based on the limited evidence available, the organisation estimated that Saudi Arabia's unemployment rate stands at around 22.6 percent for women compared to 2.9 percent for men. 

Live Story

"Work still needs to be done in Saudi Arabia to achieve gender equality," said UN Women. "Closing these gender data gaps is essential for achieving gender-related [Sustainable Development Governments]."

The SDGs are cited in the G20 declaration as key milestones for gender equality. 

There are also a number of female activists who continue to be persecuted for "peaceful human rights work," Human Rights Watch have reported. 

Loujian Al-Hathloul, one of several female activists detained for speaking out against discriminatory laws, was imprisoned for over 1,000 days. 

Released in 2021, she is still subjected to a travel ban and the charges against her have not been dropped.  

Migrant domestic workers, many of them women, are especially vulnerable to a range of social, economic and psychological abuse in Saudi Arabia, according to Human Rights Watch.