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Expanding employment opportunities and pathways of Saudi women’s agency

Al-Munaiey, M. (2020) Expanding employment opportunities and pathways of Saudi women’s agency. PhD thesis, University of Reading

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To link to this item DOI: 10.48683/1926.00096366


The limited employment opportunities available to females in Saudi Arabia have had negative consequences on their status and empowerment, particularly given that access to employment is considered one of the main resources of women’s empowerment globally. Therefore, empowering Saudi women via access to greater opportunities of employment has been a core debate in regard to enhancing their status. The reforms expanding their employment in the Kingdom since 2010 have motivated this research to explore their agency as a main component of empowerment. This study’s aim is to provide detailed insights on Saudi women’s perceptions and experiences regarding the influences and limitations of expanding employment opportunities on their agency. It explicitly sets out to answer a twofold research question: how do Saudi women perceive employment to be enlarging their exercise of agency, and loosening limitations on their agency within their social structure? Qualitative ethnographic methods were employed. This involved conducting fieldwork, individual interviews, and focus groups with 47 employed and unemployed women in Jeddah. To analyse the data a thematic analysis approach was used. To examine agency this research used Alsop and Heinsohn’s framework and rested on Naila Kabeer’s definition of agency as part of empowerment. This research supports that the practice and the development of women’s agency are regulated by different aspects of the social structure surrounding women, in particular patriarchal norms and gender relations. This led to an examination of the legal and social aspects of the ‘structure of constraints and opportunities’ as a component of this research. The investigation yielded three main findings. Firstly, it outlined five ways in which employment enabled Saudi women with greater agency. Secondly, it identified five conditions that work as key enablers for fostering their agency via employment according to the participant’s experiences. Thirdly, it distinguished three general external influences on Saudi women’s practice and development of agency through employment, which concern women in society broadly. The thesis concludes that the extent of practising or fostering agency by employment depends on the context, and individual circumstances. Even so, it deconstructed the particular pathways that lead from employment to agency, elucidating whether and how they are connected. This research allowed profound understanding of the effects of employment on women’s practice of agency, and stimulated recommendations which can contribute to policy and practice enhancing women’s agency in Saudi Arabia and across other contexts.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Thesis Supervisor:von Billerbeck, S., Hellmich, C. and Della Giusta, M.
Thesis/Report Department:Department of Politics and International Relations
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Politics, Economics and International Relations > Politics and International Relations
ID Code:96366
Date on Title Page:2019


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