An independently wealthy woman has a much more secure future
There’s no doubt Saudi Arabia has been going through some dramatic change these past months, including the death of King Abdullah leading to his son and the next generation taking reign. Perhaps even more influential is the rapid fall of oil prices which means that single-income households just aren’t enough to live on anymore. This has all led to a sort of switch toward a need to overcome gender segregation in order to allow more women to enter the workforce.
But while they still aren’t able to drive themselves to work, one app is empowering women of all ages in an unexpected way — Instagram. The world’s favorite selfie tool is enabling Saudi women to run online stores from their homes and bazaars.
According to the Saudi Gazette, “Since its launch in 2010, Instagram has helped many Saudi women become successful entrepreneurs by allowing them to post and share beautiful photos of their products and sell them.”
The Saudi women are creating pop-up stores selling anything you can imagine from jewelry to furniture, cosmetics to clothes, and any kind take-out food.
Some of the most popular Instagram users in the Arab world are Saudi woman. Ahlam Alnajdi has more than a million followers looking at the photographs of her intricate, delicious-looking clay miniatures of everyone’s favorite desserts. Roxana al-Daini sells jewelry, watches, and wallets in her three-year-old Insta-startup Accessories_ar, which has more than 100,000 followers and two employees helping her process about 25 orders a day. And we of course love the smaller but significant following of saudifemalebloggers who do just as their name suggests, a network of female bloggers in the country.
If these female entrepreneurs were to go the traditional route of selling in brick-and-mortar stores, they would have had to get male sponsors to represent them to the government agencies and to sign official documents on their behalf.
Saudi government statistics put female unemployment at about a third last year, while male unemployment was just under six percent. What’s striking is that 50 percent of these unemployed Saudi women hold university degrees. In a country of long-term gender segregation and a recently stumbling economy, thousands of women are looking to create some sort of financial independence. With Instagram they can not only showcase their wares for sale, but they can build a longer-term following and relationships that lead to repeat customers. Then they use tools like WhatsApp to communicate with their customers, plan payments and deliveries.
While many of these women still hold hopes of getting more traditional jobs, they also plan to continue using Instagram to generate side income.
According to a 2015 report on social media behavior in Saudi Arabia, the nation is by far the most “social” in the region. Saudi Arabia accounts for about half of all Twitter users in the Middle East and Northern Africa, with 9 million users, each tweeting on average about five times a day, but interestingly only nine percent of the tweets include photos. But with 8.8 million active Instagram users by this time last year, this is the social medium where users are posting photos and videos. Snapchat is also emerging as a Saudi favorite.
The report also concluded that the most used hashtags on Instagram reveal “the platform is gradually turning into a female community.”
So far, all of these Insta-preneurs in this informal economy aren’t counted by the government, which provides women with even more freedom from strict government regulations. These social networks aren’t exciting just because they are giving voices to millions of Saudi women, but because they are giving them access to the ultimate empowerment — money.