RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia will train women to work as air traffic controllers, state media reported, as the conservative Islamic kingdom seeks to create more jobs for women as part of a reform push to wean the economy off oil.
Its Vision 2030 plan aims to increase employment and diversify revenue sources as low oil prices have hit the finances of the world’s top exporter.
Some of the planned changes, like increasing the number of women in the overall workforce to 28 percent from 23 percent and quadrupling their presence in senior civil service roles to 5 percent, would transform a society where employment has traditionally been the preserve of men.
State-owned Saudi Air Navigation Services (SANS) announced on Sunday that it was offering theoretical and practical training to 80 women per year to prepare them for work in the air traffic control sector.
“The applicants began taking admissions exams on Sunday for the Saudi Academy of Civil Aviation and will undergo a number of editorial tests,” state news agency SPA said in a report late on Sunday.
Applicants must have a high school diploma with high marks and be between 18 and 25 years old, it said.
Saudi Arabia is the only country where women are forbidden to drive, making it harder for them to get to work.
Most employed women work for the kingdom’s vast public sector, primarily in health and education, but authorities say they seek to encourage more hiring by private firms as part of the 2030 plan.
Regulations bar women from certain professions, while rules on gender mixing in shops and businesses further limit job opportunities. Until 2012, even lingerie shops were mostly staffed by men.
Female employment has been a battleground for years between social conservatives and reformers, but the balance has tipped toward change since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took on wide-ranging powers role two years ago.
Last year a senior cleric said women should be allowed to work as paramedics and opticians, and last month women staffed an emergency call center at the haj pilgrimage for the first time.
Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Catherine Evans