ABHA — In an unprecedented move, Wud Society has trained 20 Saudi women to work as professional plumbers.
The majority of skilled laborers in the country are expatriate men but this may change as proponents of women’s employment in the Kingdom say women trained as skilled laborers — mainly plumbers, electricians and general maintenance workers — can be employed in female-only work places and replace expatriate men.
Riyadh’s Princess Nora Bint Abdul Rahman University recently started its women’s training program titled “Kafu” in which 60 Saudi women will be trained to work as maintenance workers with additional students being enrolled when the program is expanded. The move comes on the heels of the Ministry of Labor’s announcement over the weekend that women will be allowed to work in commercial pharmacies.
While the integration of women into the country’s workforce will lower women’s unemployment and boost the country’s Saudization efforts, the move has polarized society as many argue women should only be allowed to seek employment in certain fields. Economist Muhammad Shams believes Saudi women cannot succeed as plumbers because they are physically weaker than men.
“Women should work in fields that suit their physical nature and ability. They can become beauticians, for example. Even if women are hired as plumbers or electricians, they will need a man to supervise them. These jobs need special tools and machinery and a lot of physical exertion that women just don’t have,” he said while adding that the country risks economic uncertainty if it employs what he termed “unproductive female workers.”
Economist and writer at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) Abdulwahab Al-Qahtani said women were in for a battle but if they succeed, their victory will benefit the country.
“They have an uphill task but if these trainees actually like the profession and accept its tough nature, their employment will boost the economy. We have a serious unemployment problem and I think women should be encouraged to work in fields traditionally dominated by men.
Plumbers can make good money, almost SR80 an hour, and it will allow a lot of women to provide for themselves,” said Al-Qahtani.
Female academics and activists have come out in full support of the move, which they say is a step toward gender-equality and economic empowerment. Noora Nasser, Deputy Dean for Teaching Staff Affairs at the Institute of Technology, said women were perfectly capable of doing work that men can do.
“As long as they are properly trained, something which many expatriate men are not, there is no reason why they will not succeed. This is a long-term investment that will bear fruit for years to come.”
Fawaz Al-Dhamin, In-charge of Public Relations at Al-Atta Women’s Society, agreed with Nasser and said current developments related to women’s employment were encouraging but still more has to be done.
“This is a good first step in helping women realize their ambitions and if more fields are opened to women, it will help us build a strong state based on the talent of its sons and daughters away from the dependence on foreign labor,” he said.