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Gates: Saudi Arabia won't grow unless women given more of a role

Gates: Saudi Arabia won't grow unless women given more of a role

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates cited Saudi Arabia as an example Saturday of why he believes countries that hope to grow economically would be wise to empower women.
Gates told an audience at a breakfast meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum that he was giving a speech at a business seminar recently in Saudi Arabia when he realized the audience was divided.
On one side of an auditorium sat men. On the other, separated by a large partition, was a "sea of black," Gates said _ women in the full-length abayas covering their faces required in Saudi Arabia.
Each side had to use separate microphones to ask questions, he said _ standard practice during any kind of business, medical or academic conference in the country.
A questioner asked him if he thought Saudi Arabia could meet its ambitious goal of becoming one of the world's most competitive economies by 2010, Gates said.
"I said, 'Well, if you're not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you're not going to get too close to the top,'" Gates said.
A Davos moderator then asked Gates how the Saudi audience had reacted.
"One side loved it," Gates quipped.
Gates, the co-founder and chairman of Microsoft Corp., is the world's richest man. He and his wife also endowed and run the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which focuses on eradicating disease and poverty in Africa but also works on education issues and empowering women.
Gates spoke two days after a prominent Saudi princess said at a public Davos session that if she could change one thing about her country, she would allow women to drive. Many critics say that although jobs are open to women in Saudi Arabia, women from poorer families often cannot work or get to school because their families can't afford drivers.
Saudi Arabia's conservative, Islamic government, controlled by the royal family but heavily influenced by Sunni clerics, says restrictions on driving and the mixing of the sexes are needed to guard women's morality.
Davos attracts large numbers of business and government leaders from the Gulf and the Arab world each year, although few from Saudi Arabia are in attendance this year.


Updated : 2021-05-18 20:27 GMT+08:00