Saudi women have initially taken small steps and then leaps and strides in education, business, medicine, and other fields to prove to the world that they also play an important role in their country’s advancement and development.
Despite women carving a niche for themselves in various fields, there are still some sectors in the Kingdom which do not allow women to work. For example, women cannot be part of a paramedic team and ride in the ambulance to save lives, they cannot become a member of the Hai’a that promotes virtue and prevents vice in the community, they are not included in municipality inspections, etc.
Women are a vital part of the nation’s human resource power and so, they should have access to all positions available in the private or government sector.
However, there were a few ladies who dared to step in a man’s world just two decades from back. Even though the current situation for women isn’t so bleak as it used to be, further improvements are required and certain social and cultural barriers need to be broken.
Nashwa Taher, a Saudi national, broke all cultural barriers to become the first woman board member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
“Although the various governmental bodies have expressed their movement toward an increased inclusion of more women in field job and practical work, there is still a noticeable inclination in the governmental sector to restrict women to office and desk work. There are still many members of the society who disapprove of women appearing in public and there are those who lack the confidence in women’s abilities to carry huge responsibilities and to be equivalent to men in job performance. In all developed nations a person’s occupation is not determined by sex, but by education, productivity, skills, other credentials and how innovative and proactive he/she is. As long as this mindset and criteria for job selection is not changed in the Kingdom, women’s job opportunities will remain limited,” she said.
Fayza Bint Othman Aba Al-Khail, board member of the women’s branch of the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is comparatively more optimistic. “Women have already begun to share much of the field work with their male counterparts and each day women are proving that they are talented, capable, creative, and educated enough to do exceptionally well at their jobs.
Several ministries are training women in a number of fields, such as hospitals training women in first aid, etc. The city municipalities are also welcoming women in a number of positions. It is just a matter of time, strategic planning, and training of women. Each time a woman is given a duty, she exhibits diligence, creativity and excellent organizational and time management skills. In my experience, for example, when women organizing a conference or forum, the results are astoundingly impressive.”
Najat Muhammad Baqir is well known for her work in media in the Kingdom. “The first and foremost factor in the success of women in their field work is the continuous support and encouragement from their immediate family members, be it the father, brother, or husband. It is of utmost importance for a woman to feel that her family members believe in her abilities. Twenty years ago, countless female journalists left their jobs and abandoned their careers in journalism and media because their husbands did not approve of their work. Saudi women are highly ambitious but it is the society that is holding them back.
“There are many instances in which women’s work in the governmental sector is not only beneficial, but absolutely necessary. Divorced and widowed women who make up a significant portion of our society need women posted in passport services, legal offices, courts, health care sectors, to carry out their transactions. It would be far more convenient for those unfortunate women to communicate with women rather than men to take care of their official documents and other routine processes,” Baqir told Al-Riyadh newspaper.
If the society paves the way, women will prove that they are competent lawyers, journalists, and news anchors. Baqir said when she started her career in journalism many years back, the press conferences held by charitable organizations used to place a few seats at the rear end of the meeting room for women. Gradually, as they acknowledged that these women were playing an important role in raising society’s awareness about the tremendous work of these charities, the organizations began to welcome female journalists and treat them as equals to male journalists and writers.
Similarly, women who graduated with degrees in architecture will forget everything they learned if they do not go out to the construction sites and supervise the building according to the blueprint they had drawn.
Prominent women in Saudi society urge their employers in both the government and private sector to provide women with reliable means of transportation and adequate training, so they can more actively participate in field work. — SG