By Samar Fatany
Professional Saudi women have shown great courage and determination to dispel the stereotype of being oppressed and uneducated. They have started to create a new image and assert their progressive identities on the world stage.
Qualified women today no longer remain marginalized and confined to limited professions. Their contributions reflect their capabilities in fields of specializations previously limited to them, such as banking and finance, IT, and consultancy.
Gaining the confidence of the business community through discipline and hard work, they serve as board members, CEOs and consultants in many companies and organizations. Today, there are many examples of highly qualified women who continue to promote innovative businesses and enterprises and are taking an active role in shaping the Saudi economy and introducing women into the business community.
Among them are: Nahed Taher, CEO and co-founder of Gulf One Investment Bank, who was listed among the 20 most influential people in Islamic finance in the Global Islamic Finance Magazine in 2012.
In 2005, she became the first woman to head a Saudi investment bank in the Gulf region. In 2006, she was ranked 72nd on the list of the 100 most powerful women in the world. She believes Saudi women can play a larger role in developing the economy and advises them to invest in their country more.
Taher remains a pioneer in the banking business, portraying a positive image of Saudi woman in the international business community.
Lama Alsolaiman, deputy chairwoman of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, was the first Saudi woman to be elected to this post in 2009. She is a board member of the Jeddah-based Rolaco Trading and Contracting Company, the National Institute of Health Services, and the Economic and Social Circle of Makkah Region. She was ranked fifth on the list of the 100 most powerful Arab women in 2011. She has effectively used her position to empower women in business and provide them with confidence and support to succeed in a primarily male-dominated environment.
Nashwa Taher, Vice-President of Khadija Bint Khuwailed Business Center for Women, was among the first Saudi women to be elected as a member of the board of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In 2011, she was ranked 59th on the list of the 100 most powerful women in the Arab world. An active member of the JCCI, she continues to be a strong advocate of women in business, supporting women entrepreneurs and calling for new laws and regulations to support women at work and in business.
Dr. Arwa Alama is the first female to hold a senior post in the Jeddah Municipality. She became the head of their IT Department in 2008. Dr. Alama has played a leading role in the country’s technological advancement, winning her IT department eight prestigious awards. She also holds the position of vice mayor for women’s affairs and has been instrumental in creating new job opportunities for women in municipal services. She also serves as associate professor at the department of computer science at King Abdul Aziz University and has trained and encouraged many women in the IT sector. She is an IT consultant for Savola International and member of several scientific computer work groups, including the executive committee for the e-Goverment Plan and the Saudi National Science and Technology Plan.
This is but a short list of professional women who have been instrumental in advancing the status of women within Saudi society and abroad. There are many other examples of Saudi women who have shown great potential to become global partners contributing to global prosperity. What they need is more exposure and an opportunity to encourage new ideas, new solutions and new perspectives to better serve their society and the global community. It is necessary at this critical stage of the Kingdom’s development to step up an aggressive campaign at the grassroots level to raise awareness among citizens about the valuable contributions of professional women to the progress of Saudi society.
The international community can help facilitate the participation of Saudi professional women and seek their contribution in joint projects involving business and humanitarian organizations. Their participation in initiatives that address global concerns could create a greater impact in fostering international understanding of the Muslim way of life. When given the chance, Saudi women can play a more effective role by building trust and eliminating the elements of fear and suspicion that have divided our world. Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.