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University of Surrey (2018)

Social Change and Women’s Work across Three Generations in Abha, Saudi Arabia

Alqahtani Rajaa Taha

Titre : Social Change and Women’s Work across Three Generations in Abha, Saudi Arabia

Auteur : Alqahtani Rajaa Taha

Université de soutenance : University of Surrey

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) 2018

Women’s work participation in Saudi society has been characterised as low and limited to a few gender-segregated fields ; mainly in education and social services. However, previous social studies provide limited explanations for this, and at the same time little is known about the history of women’s work in the pre-Oil era. Today younger generations of women are facing high rates of unemployment and underemployment, which requires a deep analysis and understanding. Hence,this study aimed to reveal various aspects of paid and unpaid work across three generations of women in Abha starting from the establishment of the Saudi state in 1932 to the present day.

The study explored the main factors of social change that have constructed women’s work, how work experiences have influenced women’s lives and identities, and the links between women’s work and their empowerment. To achieve this, the research involved a qualitative study based on 77 in-depth interviews with women in Abha, southwest Saudi Arabia. A purposive sample of women was collected from three generations of women, which included a range of socioeconomic classes.

Major findings of this study indicate that women’s position in the labour market has been influenced by a complex of economic and cultural factors, the core of which have been directed by the Saudi state’s political project of being "modern and Islamic". A range of mechanisms have been mobilised, particularly regarding state policies, gender segregation system and education, with profound implications for women’s lives. Women have been a marker of the State’s political project, and have embodied the paradoxical aspects of this project as modern but Islamic.

Although factors of social change and work experience have had different impacts on women belonging to various generations and socio-economic backgrounds, they have moulded the collective identity for Saudi women in Abha, which has transferred from local to national, and finally to a contested national identity. Across the three generations, women’s empowerment has been limited by lack of resources and restricted agency. This makes achieving empowerment through employment by 2015, as required by the Millennium Development Goals (UN 2000), a very difficult goal to achieve unless the state launches an urgent reform plan.


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