Saudi Women as Emerging New Social Actors: Consumption and Business Opportunities in Sex-Segregated Riyadh

By Namie Tsujigami
Submitted to Session P4824 (Politics, Space, and Subjectivity in the Arabian Peninsula, 2017 Annual Meeting
Saudi Arabia;
Gender/Women's Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Women in the Gulf States have long been considered as oppressed and subjugated in terms of political participation, labor force participation, as well as their freedom of movement. This led to a status quo assumption of a gendered social structure of the Gulf society such as “Petroleum perpetuates Patriarchy” [Ross 2012]. However, it evoked skepticism, as some resource abundant economies in the Arab Gulf State displayed higher labor participation of women than other countries in the Middle East [Buttorff and Welborne 2015], and Gulf States in general witnessed rapid advancement of female education that went far as to outnumber male counterparts in tertiary education [Ridge 2014]. Along with such drastic socio-economic changes, Gulf women started to be considered as significant consumers, as well as entrepreneurs. It coincided with the growing commercial infrastructure, such as shopping malls and cafes, which capitalizes on the purchasing power of women [Le Renard 2011]. More importantly, such feminization of infrastructure is taking place under royal conglomerates patronage. This study examines the processes of women’s gaining of hegemony in the consumer market by looking at both female consumers and entrepreneurs within middle-class and upper middle-class urban spaces in Riyadh. The paper explores women’s consumption and spending behavior, in relation to their financial responsibility in supporting household. At the same time, the study interrogates emerging small and medium-sized enterprises that target female consumers in sex-segregated social settings where only women know women’s needs. Through investigations, it is clarified that socio-economic development in Saudi Arabia does not necessarily undo sex-segregation, but business growth catered to women provides more space for women in the public spheres. The paper also detects passive resistance to patriarchy, which constitutes an incongruous gendered relationship of dominate and dominated; although being reluctant/unwelcomed to be a provider/ bread-winner of the household, women are nonetheless establishing hegemony in the broader consumer market.