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Saudi Arabia: 28,000 women apply for 30 train driver jobs

An employee stands outside a train at the airport station in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Image source, Getty Images

A rail company recruiting 30 female train drivers in Saudi Arabia says it has received 28,000 applications.

The successful candidates will drive high-speed trains between the holy cities of Mecca and Medina after a year of training.

It is the first time such roles have been advertised for women in the conservative Muslim kingdom.


For decades, Saudi Arabia had one of the world’s lowest female workforce participation rates.

But in recent years the government has made efforts to increase the number of women in work as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to diversify the oil-dependent economy.

It has also pushed through a number of social reforms, including ending the ban on women driving and easing male guardianship laws to allow women to travel freely.

As a result of such changes, the participation of women in the workforce has almost doubled over the past five years to 33%, and more women than men entered the workforce in the first half of last year.

However, men still hold the majority of jobs, particularly in the public sector, according to a study published last year by US-based think tank the Brookings Institute.

The Spanish rail company Renfe’s recruitment drive is therefore likely to satisfy only a tiny fraction of the women wanting to work in the public sector.

Despite the major social reforms, Saudi women must still obtain a male guardian’s approval to get married, leave prison, or obtain certain healthcare.

Human rights activists say women also continue to face discrimination in relation to marriage, family, divorce and decisions relating to children.


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