In a faraway kingdom called Saudi Arabia, a young woman of 26 sits in her kitchen waiting for the oven timer to go off. “The order will be delivered at six o’clock,” she texts her customer. She then starts preparing the frosting to finish decorating her perfectly baked cupcakes. She has a strict policy of delivering her goods five minutes before the agreed time. Keeping the customer happy has never failed her when it comes to her blooming business.

Saudi Arabia’s culture is known for being extremely conservative, especially when it comes to the female half of its population. This conservatism is one of the leading reasons why there are more unemployed women than men, although half of the unemployed women are college educated.

But, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Saudi women have turned to social media to solve their unemployment problem. Three years ago, a new phenomenon appeared on the social networking service Instagram. Women of different ages across the Kingdom started selling homemade cupcakes online. Advertising for their businesses would start with friends and family, and then slowly spread within the area, reaching the furthest house to which a driver could deliver. This idea quickly spread like fire, and selling cupcakes online has become the stereotype of ‘unemployed’ Saudi women.

Today, starting a business on Instagram has expanded far beyond cupcakes. Women are coming up with diverse and creative projects that they advertise and sell online. Each woman utilizes her unique skills, whether it be sewing, cooking, painting, knitting, decorating, or even party planning to create businesses, allowing them to become more independent individuals with greater control over their lives. These Instagram businesses have created a competitive market among Saudi women, with female business experts and college graduates starting up projects alongside stay-at-home mothers.

This sudden boom of Instagram businesses has expanded so quickly that the Labor Ministry is not yet able to include the income generated in the total of the national informal economy. This social and economic innovation has eased the way for women to avoid the long and brutal process of obtaining a business license, allowing them to be in control of their work hours and employment status, and providing them freedom of creativity in a conservative culture by working from home.


Maisam Alahmed

Maisam Alahmed is currently interning as a freelance journalist with the Fuller Project for International Reporting in Istanbul, Turkey. In the past, Maisam worked as a researcher for the Boston Consortium...

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