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Saudi Arabia opens up 'dangerous' jobs to women

Saudi Arabia has dropped a clause in its labor law that prevented women from doing "hazardous or dangerous" jobs after pressure from the International Labor Organization (ILO), according to various Arabic news reports.

According to Al Arabiya, Saudi Gazette and Makkah newspapers, the Saudi Ministry of Labor has dropped a clause which protected women workers from hazardous and dangerous jobs after it conflicted with the ILO's requirements for equal opportunities.

However no mention has so far been made of which hazardous jobs would soon be open up to women.

Citing an unnamed source within the Labor Ministry, the Makkah newspaper was reported to have spoken to a source within the Labor ministry about the clash with the ILO.


Saudi women walk with their shopping bags and drinks outside the Olaya mall in Riyadh.
Fayez Nureldine | AFP | Getty Images
Saudi women walk with their shopping bags and drinks outside the Olaya mall in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia had reportedly adopted Article 149 of the ILO's Labor Law but had added a clause which assured women equal job opportunities with men -- as long as the occupation was not dangerous or risky for them.

The ILO was apparently not pleased with the amendment, according to the Makkar's source, and claimed that it diluted the section of the law by limiting work opportunities for women. Saudi's Labor Ministry disagreed but deleted the clause anyway.

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"The minister disagreed with ILO's comments," the source was quoted as saying. "He did not find the Saudi Labor Law treating women unequally to men in any way. Rather it protects women's femininity," the source continued.

Saudi Arabia has had a controversial track record when it comes to women's rights with driving bans, divorce codes and male guardianship continuing sources of inequality. The World Economic Forum's global gender gap index in 2015 put Saudi Arabia at 134 in a ranking of 145 countries.

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Things are slowly changing – for example, the government has announced plans to create a "woman friendly" city in Saudi Arabia to "bolster employment opportunities for women without transgressing religious boundaries" newspaper Al Arabiya noted.

The Labor Ministry has also pushed through a "feminization" program that has included replacing the men who work in sales at lingerie stores with women. Definitive progress has been made on the political front, however. Women were previously not allowed to vote or stand for office but in 2011, King Abdullah said that women would be able to vote and run in municipal elections to be held in December.

- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt. Follow us on Twitter: @CNBCWorld