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In Saudi Arabia, a rail company seeking 30 female train drivers has received 28,000 applications.

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

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

For decades, Saudi Arabia had one of the lowest female labor force participation rates in the world.

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

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It has also pushed for a number of social reforms, such as lifting the ban on women driving and liberalizing male guardianship laws to allow women to travel freely.

As a result of these changes, women’s labor-force participation has nearly doubled over the last five years to 33 percent, and more women than men entered the labor force in the first half of last year.

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

As a result, the Spanish rail company Renfe’s recruitment drive is likely to satisfy only a small percentage of the women who want to work in the public sector. Despite major social reforms, Saudi women must still obtain the approval of a male guardian before marrying, leaving prison, or receiving certain healthcare.

Women, according to human rights activists, continue to face discrimination in marriage, family, divorce, and child-rearing decisions.

 

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