A job advertisement for 30 female train conductors in Saudi Arabia has attracted 28,000 applicants, underscoring the scale of pent-up demand as this conservative kingdom opens up more opportunities for women.
Spanish rail operator Renfe said on Wednesday that an online assessment of academic background and English skills had helped it cut the number of applicants by about half and that it would deal with the rest of the applications by mid-2020.
The 30 selected women will drive bullet trains between the cities of Mecca and Medina after a year of paid training.
Renfe, which has expressed its desire to create opportunities for women in its division in the country, currently employs 80 men to drive its trains in Saudi Arabia and has another 50 in training.
Until recently, job opportunities for Saudi women were limited to roles such as teachers and health workers, as they had to adhere to strict gender-segregation rules. Women were not even allowed to drive in the kingdom until 2018.
Female participation in the workforce has nearly doubled in the past five years, to 33 percent, amid a drive by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to open up the kingdom and diversify the economy, and women are now filling senior positions.
However, the proportion of women working in the kingdom was still half that of men in the third quarter of last year, at 34.1 percent, and female unemployment was well over three times that of males. men, with 21.9 percent.
Saudi Arabia highlights progress on gender at a time when the West is scrutinising its human rights record, which includes a crackdown on dissent that rounded up many women’s rights activists.