Saudi Arabia plans string of women-only industrial cities

Work on what may be the world’s first industrial city designed exclusively for women is underway now in Saudi Arabia.

The $29.6m (Saudi Riyals 111 million) development aims to attract industrial projects pioneered by women, making it the first industrial zone to accommodate women’s businesses exclusively, reports English-language Saudi newspaper, Arab News.

  Covering an area of 500,000 sq m – equivalent to about five American football fields – the city is located east of Al-Ahsa International Airport, which serves the city of Hofuf in the kingdom’s Eastern Province.

Its design "takes into account the privacy of Saudi women and will provide thousands of jobs for Saudi women", Arab News reports.

The idea for women-only industrial zones was first articulated in 2003 by a group of prominent businesswomen in the kingdom, which enforces strict segregation of the sexes. The idea was welcomed at the time by the Saudi Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

A 2012 study by Booz & Company, quoted by Arab News, suggested that 78% of Saudi female graduates are unemployed, while the employment rate for women is 14.4 %, the lowest in the Gulf region.

The first industrial city in Hofuf is expected to create between 3,000 and 5,000 jobs for women in the Eastern Province

"The plan to create women-only industrial cities is a positive step that will mutually benefit Saudi women and the Kingdom," Basmah Omair, executive director of the Khadijah bint Khwailid Businesswomen’s Center at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Arab News.

She said the creation of women-only cities would give talented women the chance, now lacking, to show their potential.

It was formally launched in March this year by the Saudi Industrial Property Authority, which plans first to establish a factory that will initially employ 50 Saudi women.

"The project will be the first of its kind representing an industrial oasis in Yanbu, and will include a plant employing only females," said Saleh Al-Rasheed, the director general of the authority, Arab News reported. He said the plant would have its own public transport, nurseries and training institutes.

In 2012, Al-Rasheed said women-only cities would be established near Riyadh and Jeddah by 2020.

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