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Saudi woman starts working at a gas station

Mervat Bukhari, a force of nature draped head-to-toe in niqab, braved insults and taunts to become the first Saudi woman to work at a gas station, something unimaginable not long ago.



Kickstarted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the reforms include the historic decision allowing women to drive from June, attend soccer games and take on jobs that once fell outside the narrow confines of traditional gender roles.

When Bukhari, 43 and a mother of four, was promoted as supervisor of a gas station in eastern Khobar city last October, insults began pouring in on social media with the hashtag “Saudi women don’t work at gas stations”.



Bukhari, previously employed in a junior role by the same parent company, was forced to go on the defencive, telling critics she was in a managerial position and not physically handling fuel nozzles.

“I am a supervisor. I don’t fill gas myself,” she reasoned, seeking to win a modicum of respectability for a job that class-conscious Saudi men disdain.

“Women today have the right to do any work.”



Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 reform plan for a post-oil era seeks to elevate women to nearly one-third of the workforce, up from about 22 per cent now.

Government statistics also put more than one million Saudi women as currently looking to enter the workforce.

The reforms have seen the Saudi labour market slowly open up to women, introducing them to jobs that were once firmly the preserve of men.



The social change, catalysed in large measure by what experts characterise as economic pain owing to a protracted oil slump, has introduced a series of firsts.

Saudi media has championed in recent months the first woman restaurant chef, first woman veterinarian and even the first woman tour guide.

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