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Monday, September 21, 1998 Published at 10:50 GMT 11:50 UK


World: Middle East

Saudi women get down to business

The modern look of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's commercial centre

By the BBC Gulf Correspondent, Frank Gardner:

At a large hotel in Riyadh, hundreds of Saudi women have gathered for an unprecedented event.

The Women's Exhibition for Marketing and Investment is the first of its kind to be held in this deeply conservative country.

Over a period of three days some of Saudi Arabia's more ambitious working women are meeting to discuss how to enhance both their businesses and their career paths.

Men are strictly banned from the event, and extra security has been drafted in from the local Riyadh Governate to deter gatecrashers.

Although Saudi women are forbidden either to drive cars or to deal directly with men, an estimated 250,000 of them have overcome these obstacles to form a growing part of the economy.

Over 6,000 commercial licences have been issued to women, many of whom run their own women-only businesses. And in these days of depressed oil prices, the government needs their money.

The Riyadh Chamber of Commerce which is backing the event, is hoping it will stimulate more business among Saudi women.

Alongside the conference is a standing exhibition where women can meet consultants from the worlds of banking and marketing.

And with a reputation for hard work and perserverance, Saudi Arabia's working women may soon prove to be tough competition for their male counterparts.



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