Saudi women break the barriers
By: Khaled Almaeena
Forbes Middle East in its 2014 ranking of the 200 most powerful Arab women has included 27 Saudi women.
The impressive lineup included inspirational and accomplished women from family business and government as well as C-level top executives in the corporate world. Egypt dominated with 29 entries, Saudi Arabia, the largest economy in the region, came second at 27 followed closely by the UAE with 26 entries.
The inclusion of these Saudi women in the Forbes ranking is an indication of the progress made by women in various sectors.
For over five decades, girls have been ensured a secondary level education. In the past, many of them could go on to higher studies due to the lack of educational facilities. Some families who could afford it and had the aptitude to do so sent their daughters to neighboring Arab countries. These women came back and became pioneers in their fields.
Then came the oil boom of the 1970s.
Many people from all over the world came to participate in the kingdom’s development. At the beginning, there was a noticeable absence of women. However, with the huge cash flow and government will for women’s education and participation, colleges and universities sprang up across the kingdom. Many families began to encourage their female members to pursue higher education and more recently to take advantage of the King Abdullah Scholarship Program.
Recognition of women in our society should not be based on gender
The restrictions imposed by hardliners and the rigid control of the lifestyle began to loosen up as society woke up to the realization that the kingdom will not progress if an important segment of its society is held back. No society can progress without women’s involvement. Today, thanks to legislation and the efforts by local NGOs, women are being equipped to play a role in the world of banking, business and industry in addition to education, academic research and medicine.
Harm to our society
However, a lot of ground has yet to be covered in order to address the prejudice against women’s work that still exists in many parts of the kingdom. The negative attitude toward women has done a lot of harm to our society. We can no longer afford to delay their full integration into the workforce. There is a dire need to support women who continue to acquire higher qualifications and are presenting themselves as candidates for job opportunities in the business environment. The prevailing notion that women are weak and helpless should be erased from our minds
Today, we see Saudi women scientists, analysts, engineers, researchers, CEOs, chairwomen and industrialists. While many are there because of family involvement and support, they had to prove themselves in order to be in the driving seat.
Women’s progress cannot be speeded up unless society as a whole supports it through education, understanding and encouragement and by recognizing the importance of the vital role of women in nation building.
Recognition of women in our society should not be based on gender or on the idea of showing the world that women in Saudi Arabia are being provided with work opportunities. Confidence in the ability of working women should be based on merit and their level of professionalism.
Competition is also important. Women should be allowed to compete for jobs against men not against women only. This will enhance the quality of services and work standards.
The diversification of our economy is of utmost importance. Economists stress that we cannot depend on oil alone. To do this we need competent men and women who can be captains of business and industry. Fifty-seven percent of our university graduates are women and they are also 50 percent of our population. They should be a core part of the equation. Marginalizing them will be a great loss to our economy and will hamper our progress and development.
The 27 women on the Forbes Middle East list are just the tip of the iceberg and I am sure there are many other equally qualified, successful and aspiring women who are also playing a role in the progress of our nation. They too need our support and recognition.
Khaled Almaeena is a veteran Saudi journalist, commentator, businessman and the editor-at-large of the Saudi Gazette. Almaeena has held a broad range of positions in Saudi media for over thirty years, including CEO of a PR firm, Saudi Television news anchor, talk show host, radio announcer, lecturer and journalist. As a journalist, Almaeena has represented Saudi media at Arab summits in Baghdad, Morocco and elsewhere. In 1990, he was one of four journalists to cover the historic resumption of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Russia. He also traveled to China as part of this diplomatic mission. Almaeena’s political and social columns appear regularly in Gulf News, Asharq al-Aswat, al-Eqtisadiah, Arab News, Times of Oman, Asian Age and The China Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena