Saudi Arabia

Gender Gap Index[1]

Gender Gap Index 2014
Overall Economic Participation Political Empowerment Educational Attainment
Rank Score Rank Score Rank Score Rank Score
130 0.606 137 0.389 117 0.077 86 0.987
(Rank: out of 142 countries) (Score: 0.00 = inequality, 1.00 = equality)


Family Code/ Personal Status Law

  • In Saudi Arabia, Shari'ah law governs personal status matters. As there is no written personal status or family law, the interpretation and application of Shari'ah law is up to individual judges and the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, who have significant discretionary power in deciding cases


  • There is no legally defined minimum legal age of marriage in Saudi Arabia.
  • Father's retain sole guardianship of children
  • According to the Civil Status System, Art. 91, the law also stipulates that the husband is the head of the household


  • Men have the right to unilateral divorce, but women's rights to divorce are restricted
  • In cases of divorce men retain legal guardianship but Muslim women are favoured for physical custody of young children

Resources and Assets

  • Women (married and unmarried) in Saudi Arabia have the legal right to own land and non-land assets (Basic Law, Arts 7, 17, and 18).
  • Upon marriage, women retain control and ownership of any property that they may already own; the default marital property regime is separation of property (Basic Law, Arts 7 and 23).
  • Other laws or social norms, however, largely restrict these rights. Legislation requiring physical separation of unrelated men and women in all public areas limits women's ability to independently own and manage any kind of assets.
  • This and other restrictions on freedom of movement mean that it is difficult for women to physically access banks and other financial services.
  • Inheritance rights in Saudi Arabia are governed by Shari'ah law, which allows women to inherit half what a similarly situated male relative would receive.


  • There is no legislation in place to protect women against discrimination in employment.
  • Pregnant women are entitled to 10 weeks' paid maternity leave (financed by the employer), and organisations that employ more than 50 women are required to provide childcare facilities.
  • Women need permission from their guardian in order to be able to work.
  • The new Labour Code (introduced in 2005) implies that gender segregation in the work place is no longer a legal requirement, but the law is unclear and segregation is often still practiced, limiting women's full participation in the work place.
  • There are no specific laws addressing sexual harassment, nor is sexual harassment addressed in other legislation, although employers in many sectors maintain separate male and female work spaces where feasible


  • Regarding the domestic violence law, in mid-2013, Saudi Arabia's Council of Ministers passed a law criminalizing domestic abuse.

Political Participation

Women's Political Participation Year Total Source
Number of women in parliament (consultative council) 2014 0/35 IPU database
% of women in parliament 2014 0%
Legislated quotas for women for single/ lower house (yes/no) 2014 NO The Quota Project database
Number of women in ministerial positions 2014 0 IPU database
% of women in ministerial positions 2014 0%


  • The 1992 Basic Law of Saudi Arabia does not guarantee gender equality. Article 8 requires that the government be premised on equality in accordance with Shari'ah law, but under Shari'ah law, women are considered to be legal minors, under the control of their guardian.
  • Women's freedom of movement and access to public space is severely restricted in Saudi Arabia. Legally, women need permission to leave their homes, and are forbidden from leaving their local neighbourhood without the company of their guardian.
  • There is no national-level elected legislature in Saudi Arabia.
  • Women did not have the right to vote in Saudi Arabia's municipal council elections, first held in 2005 and again in 2011.
  • A Royal Decree was issued in late 2011 that allows Saudi women to vote and run for office in the next municipal elections, scheduled for 2015


  • A Royal Order issued on 11 January 2013 provided that women shall be represented in the Council at a minimum of 20%
  • Saudi Arabia has no provision for direct elections at a national level, while in 2005 a limited number of advisory councils at the sub-national level introduced directly elected seats for the first time.
  • The Consultative Council is an advisory body, which is appointed by the King for a term of four years.
  • Before the introduction of the Royal Order stipulating a 20 % quota for women, the Shura Council was always an all-male body.


  • Since 2013 the unicameral Majilis Al-Shura/ Consultative Council of Saudi Arabia has 30/ 151 (19.87%) female representatives (appointed by the King)
  • There are currently, however, no female ministers in the cabinet and women remain segregated within the council, entering through a separate door and sitting in their own seating area.
  • Overall, women's representation in decision-making remains very low, and they are entirely excluded from all leadership positions within the country's religious institutions.


  • The government tightly controls domestic media content and journalists are banned from publishing articles considered offensive to the religious establishment or the ruling authorities; violations can result in fines, prison sentences, and forced closure

CEDAW and reservations[7]

  • Saudi Arabia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women in 2000, with the following reservations:
  • In case of contradiction between any term of the Convention and the norms of Islamic law, the Kingdom is not under obligation to observe the contradictory terms of the Convention.
  • The Kingdom does not consider itself bound by paragraph 2 of article 9 of the Convention and paragraph 1 of article 29 of the Convention

Economic Empowerment[8]

Women's Economic Participation Year Total Source
Labour Force Participation
Ratio of female to male labour force participation 2014 0.25 World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2014
Labour force participation, female (% of total labour force) 2013 19% World Bank Gender Statistics Data Bank
Labour force participation, female (% of female population 15-64) 2012 19.1%
Labour force participation, male (% of male population 15-64) 2012 77.5%
Youth Employment
Ratio of female to male youth unemployment rate (% aged 15-24) 2012 261.8% World Bank Gender Statistics Data Bank
Unemployment, female (% of female labour force) 2014 18.6% World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2014
Unemployment, male (% of male labour force) 2014 3.2%
Unemployment, total (% of total labour force) 2012 5.6% World Bank Gender Statistics Data Bank
Sectors of Work
Agriculture (% of female employment) 2012 0.2% World Bank Gender Statistics Data Bank
Agriculture (% of male employment) 2012 5.3%
Women employed in non-agricultural sector (% of total non-agricultural employment) 2014 14% World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2014
Industry (% of female employment) 2012 1.5% World Bank Gender Statistics Data Bank
Industry (% of male employment) 2012 28.1%
Services (% of female employment) 2012 98.3%
Services (% of male employment) 2012 66.6%

Sectors of Work

  • Some professions are closed to women: a loosely defined group of activities that are deemed unsuitable to women's 'nature' and potentially detrimental to their health.
  • Women have been able to study law since 2007, and in late 2013, four Saudi Arabian women became the first female lawyers to receive legal licenses; previously women with law degrees could work only as legal consultants but were banned from practicing law in courtrooms or from operating law firms.
  • The government has taken steps to encourage women's employment opportunities, for instance by obliging all government agencies to have women's sections, and new opportunities for women are opening up in the private sphere (such as women-only manufacturing and shopping centres)[8]

[1] World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2014:
[2] All information on legislation has been sourced from the OECD Social Institutions and Gender Index, 2014: Unless stated otherwise.
[8] All information on economic empowerment has been sourced from the World Bank Gender Statistics Data Bank: catalog/gender-statistics. Unless stated otherwise.