Saudi initiatives empowering people with disabilities

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Tawafuq, Arabic for ‘success,’ ensures equal employment opportunities within the private sector for Saudis with disabilities. (Photos/Social media)
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Tawafuq, Arabic for ‘success,’ ensures equal employment opportunities within the private sector for Saudis with disabilities. (Photos/Social media)
Updated 12 January 2019
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Saudi initiatives empowering people with disabilities

  • About 10 percent of the Saudi population has some form of disability, according to a survey conducted by the General Authority for Statistics
  • The Labor Ministry also launched Mowaama, Arabic for “adaptability,” a program aimed at increasing the number of companies that can hire people with special needs, in July 2017

JEDDAH: Providing equal opportunities in education and employment are tantamount to achieving a thriving economy ahead of 2030.
Ensuring people with special needs are able to join the workforce is no exception. As such, government institutions have spared no effort in empowering people with disabilities to become more self-reliant, thereby improving their standard of living.
The Saudi Human Resources Development Fund, which is tasked with ensuring people with special needs can secure sustainable employment, launched Tawafuq, an employment program for people with special needs, in 2014.
Tawafuq, Arabic for “success,” ensures equal employment opportunities within the private sector for Saudis with disabilities.
Officials at Tawafuq liaise with other institutions to create a special platform for job seekers that takes into account capabilities, personal preferences and opportunities.
Services include helping the disabled overcome obstacles that can hinder their progress in the workplace. The program follows up with candidates after a period of six months.
The Labor Ministry also launched Mowaama, Arabic for “adaptability,” a program aimed at increasing the number of companies that can hire people with special needs, in July 2017.
Mowaama encourages private sector institutions to cater to this segment of society as part of their moral duty to their country, while also ensuring companies foster an inclusive agenda.
Savola Group, one of the country’s foremost industrial companies, launched the Makeen employment initiative, which has helped more than 1,000 citizens with disabilities find work over the past eight years.
Meanwhile, Qaderoon, Arabic for “we are capable,” is a national business disability network that provides guidance, advice, data, and training for employers to recruit, retain and include employees with special needs.
About 10 percent of the Saudi population has some form of disability, according to a survey conducted by the General Authority for Statistics.
According to the survey, 3.2 percent became disabled as a result of traffic accidents. Hassan Al-Zahrani, a Saudi paraplegic social media activist, was one of those victims.
He lost his ability to walk in a car accident when he was just 14 years old. He was in a coma for nine months after the accident.
Now 39 years old, he has worked with Saudi Arabian Airlines at King Abdul Aziz International Airport in Jeddah since 2004.
He obtained a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Al-Baha University.
“Finding work was challenging and taught me a lesson that I chose to share with my community, which sees me as a role model,” Al-Zahrani told Arab News.
“I believe that people with disabilities can be integrated in any field. We just need good social services and environments that are conducive to our progress.”
Al-Zahrani has more than 4,000 followers on Twitter and aims to ensure equal opportunities for all.
He was keen to shed light on the issues he faces in his daily life, and hopes people can respect special needs provisions.
Al-Zahrani’s story was told through a documentary.
“I have taken on diving as a hobby,” he said. “It was difficult imagining myself diving because I’m a paraplegic, but I find it easy now since I was well-trained.”
Hawazen Binzagr, a Saudi clinical psychotherapist who works at the Adult & Child Therapy Center in Jeddah, told Arab News: “The most important point is to focus on the needs of this segment of society and to help them to reach their aspirations.
“Every person with a form of disability will have different ways of coping and dealing with their situation. The lack of social services and awareness makes them see their difficulties as obstacles. They begin to feel sadness, anger, hopelessness and disappointment.”
Binzagr said that such negative thoughts could severely impact their mental health.


How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

Dr. Fatima Alakeel, cybersecurity expert. (AN photo)
Updated 20 March 2019
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How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

  • ‘Securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,’ says Dr. Fatema Alakeel of King Saud University in Riyadh
  • ‘Saudi women are ambitious,’ says one graduate. ‘We are acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers’

DUBAI: More and more girls in Saudi Arabia are opting for an education in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and now the challenge is finding them employment, said Dr. Fatima Alakeel, a cybersecurity expert and faculty member at King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh.
“In the Kingdom, STEM-related jobs are limited at the moment, as the economy is primarily oil-based and there are few technical jobs available,” said Alakeel, who is also the founder and CEO of the non-profit Confidentiality, Integrity & Availability Group (CIAG), which focuses on information security training and research in Riyadh.
According to a government report on the labor market situation in the third quarter of 2018, more than 30 percent of Saudi women aged between 15 and 65 are unemployed.
Among them, the highest rate of unemployment is among 20-24-year-olds (more than 70 percent) and among 25-29-year-olds (55 percent).
According to the report, there are 923,504 Saudi jobseekers, of whom 765,378 are women (82.2 percent).
“We have more girls in STEM education compared to Western countries,” said Alakeel, who completed her doctoral degree in computer science in the UK at the University of Southampton in 2017.
According to a report prepared by the Saudi Education Ministry, girls accounted for 57 percent of undergraduates for the year 2015-2016 in the Kingdom.
That same year, women outnumbered men in graduating with a bachelor’s in biology, information technology (IT), mathematics and statistics, and physics.
According to a survey Alakeel recently conducted on social media, “almost 80 percent of (Saudi) girls were keen to study STEM, but securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,” she said.
Maha Al-Taleb, 22, graduated earlier this year with a degree in technology from KSU, specializing in IT networks and security.
“It’s common for girls in the Kingdom to opt for STEM education,” said Al-Taleb, who now works in a public sector company in Riyadh as a junior information security analyst.
“Saudi women are ambitious. We’re acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers. I don’t know why the world assumes that Saudi women are a backward tribal species who have no say in these matters. This entire perception is flawed.”
Al-Taleb got a job offer immediately after university, but realizes that not all her peers are as fortunate. Women “are facing problems in securing jobs, not because companies don’t want to hire us, but because employment for Saudi youths is a major challenge,” she said.
“In today’s Saudi Arabia, parents are encouraging their daughters to get a degree not just in the Kingdom; they also want them to go to Western universities. It has become a common phenomenon. Things have changed. Women are a crucial part of the nation’s development process.”
Not all women graduating in the Kingdom are as lucky, among them Razan Al-Qahtani. “It has been several months since I graduated, yet I haven’t been able to find a job. It has been a struggle so far,” said the 25-year-old IT graduate. “We have more talented and qualified girls, especially in the field of technology, but there are few jobs available. It’s a difficult situation, but we’re hopeful things will change very soon.”
Al-Qahtani expressed confidence that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan will bring opportunities for qualified Saudis.
As part of Vision 2030, the government has committed to raise employment among Saudi women.
Alakeel said the government is working hard to find a solution, and it is only a matter of time until more such jobs are on offer.
“As per Vision 2030, there will be more jobs, including technical jobs, available in the country. Once we have more jobs, women will eventually get their due share,” she added. According to Alakeel, female empowerment and promotion to leading roles have made huge progress in Saudi Arabia, and this may affect existing STEM job opportunities.
“We’re glad to see Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud becoming the first female ambassador of the country. It only suggests change is on the way,” Alakeel said.
Al-Taleb expressed pride in the way her parents have supported her, saying: “My father isn’t educated and my mother has basic literacy, but both provided me with the education I desired. They want their daughters to be as successful as their sons.”
Like women in any country, the transition from university to the workplace is not always easy, even for young Saudi women with technology degrees. Yet they are not losing hope.
“We realize these are difficult times in terms of employment, especially in technology-related fields, but things will change,” Al-Taleb said. “Saudi women will soon be ruling the fields of STEM all over the country.”