Saudi women’s voices in Shoura Council continue to be heard

Saudi women in the Shoura Council have come a long way. (SPA)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Saudi women’s voices in Shoura Council continue to be heard

JEDDAH: It was a year to remember for many Saudis. For the first time in history, 30 Saudi women took their seats as members of the Shoura Council in February 2013, and were sworn in before the presence of the late King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz.
Five years on, female Shoura Council members are still playing a major role in different issues concerning social development in the Kingdom.
Saudi women in the Shoura Council have come a long way. Their achievements have been recorded in history and their powerful voices continue to be heard.
None of the women needs introduction, with each having a long history of achievements even before their appointment.
Lina Al-Maeena spent more than 15 years leading a fight for women’s sports in Saudi Arabia. She founded Jeddah United in 2003, Saudi Arabia’s first private female basketball club.
Despite facing a backlash, she pushed for acceptance in the conservative community and has finally won recognition with the realization that it is important for women to participate in sports activities.
In compliance with Vision 2030 — which includes development programs preparing the Kingdom for a promising future — the Saudi government has committed to elevating the status of sports in the Kingdom, a boost to promoting physical fitness for both men and women alike.
But promoting sports activities for Saudi women is not Al-Maeena’s only goal.
“It’s not simply about the empowerment of women in sports from an athletic point of view, I’m also looking at it from an economic perspective,” she said.
“Sports as a business is in line with the goal of Vision 2030 — to increase the number of women in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent. It’s not just the health, social benefits and development aspects, I’m very big on economics too.”
“When it comes to women's empowerment, I like to look at a gender as a whole, not just women,” adds Al-Maeena. “I advocate under the Shoura Council dome, for many environmental issues. Saudi Arabia is a member of the G-20 and we have a global responsibility to become supporters of a green lifestyle to sustain effective development.”
“It’s a golden age for Saudis and as women, we’ve come a long way. Every other day you see things happening and it’s a great celebration of achievements. We’re living this era of historical change, both pre- and post-Vision 2030 and we’re making up for lost time,” said Al-Maeena.
Fawzia Abalkhail, a professor of Information Technology and Education at Princess Noura hUniversity (PNU) who has a doctorate in the philosophy of education, is one of 20 new female Shoura members appointed in 2016.
She believes that every member of the Shoura Council has a national responsibility entrusted to them by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques by virtue of his appointment.
“As a female Shoura Council member, I support development issues in the education sector, health sector, public services and social affairs … [and in doing so] to support many fellow members in women empowerment issues,” said Abalkhail, appointed in 2013-2014 as the undersecretary of PNU for Graduate Studies and Scientific Research and vice president of PNU for health affairs.
“We focus on finding means of support and setting the standards that will increase women’s contributions in matters of social development, provide greater chances for assuming higher governmental positions as well as managerial roles in the private sector,” she said.
Abalkhail is of the opinion that Saudi women must gain skills in various fields in order to contribute. She believes a woman plays a pivotal role in society to ensure its stability and structural health, a role that is no less than a man’s.
“I am keen on laying the foundations and the right means in which all women can acquire the knowledge they need to enrich their social contributions,” said Abalkhail, who is also a member of the Saudi Society for Education and Psychological Sciences.
“Women are required to be their own self-development researchers. I am very interested in making sure education is improved, facilitate it and widen the scope beyond academic constraints. In doing so, a wider range of knowledge exchange will be provided between all those who seek it to build healthier social practices.”
Education has played a major role in empowering women in Saudi Arabia for many years.
Dr. Alia Aldahlawi, an associate professor at the Department of Biology-Organisms in the Faculty of Sciences at King Abdul Aziz University, agreed that education was key to ensuring women qualified for senior positions.
“The Kingdom’s scholarship programs have sent countless of women and men alike to get an equally challenging education and thus return to hold positions they’re most qualified for. Society must place their trust, reverse their mindsets to empower our women,” she said. “It’s also important that women realize that it is essential they work harder and prove themselves to the naysayers.”
“To my knowledge, there are approximately 1,000 Saudi women professors with different scientific occupations in many universities of the Kingdom,” Aldahlawi said.
“They’ve held high administrative positions with years of experience. We see female diplomats employed in the Saudi Foreign Ministry, researchers and inventors in the health sector, economic and business experts and so much more.
“They are pioneers of their fields and their abilities are an asset to the Kingdom that must be utilized.”


Enigmatic traveler who revealed full majesty of Makkah to the world

Pilgrims camp in Arafat during Hajj in this rare old picture. (Supplied)
Updated 6 min 37 sec ago
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Enigmatic traveler who revealed full majesty of Makkah to the world

  • The next day he and his companions wore Ihram garments and walked along winding roads until they reached Makkah
  • The vessel floundered and sank, forcing Al-Abbasi and his men to flee in a lifeboat and row for hours before reaching the safety of a Red Sea island

JEDDAH: Ali Bey Al-Abbasi was not the first European enamored with the Arab Peninsula and the mysteries of Makkah. Nor was he the first Westerner to visit the city — but he was an unusually resourceful man, with wealth of unknown origin and a great thirst for discovery, who provided Westerners with the first comprehensive account of the city.
He was born Domingo Francisco Jorge Badía y Leblich in Barcelona in 1767. After receiving a liberal education, he focused on astronomy, medicine and mineral science. He also developed an interest in learning Arabic.
“Al-Abbasi was an agent of the king of Spain or of Napoleon,” says August Raleigh, author of the book “Makkah in the Eyes of a Christian Pilgrim.”
In 1801, Al-Abbasi set off for Paris and London, returning to Spain two years later wearing Islamic clothing. Later, he formed a close friendship with the sultan of Morocco who, with growing affection, advised the Spaniard to find a wife, to which Al-Abbasi replied that he had made a pledge not to marry before visiting Makkah. The sultan tried to discourage Al-Abbasi from making the trip but when he could not, and saw the determination of his friend, he presented him with a beautiful, extravagant tent as a gift.
On the third day of Shawwal, 1806, Al-Abbasi joined a convoy heading to Makkah, taking with him 14 camels and two horses. He boarded a ship from Suez but fate, and the weather, were not on his side. The vessel floundered and sank, forcing Al-Abbasi and his men to flee in a lifeboat and row for hours before reaching the safety of a Red Sea island. From there, they were rescued and taken to Jeddah.
On the 12th day of Dul Qaada, Al-Abbasi had to be carried on a stretcher because he had a fever that weakened him and damaged his bones. The next day he and his companions wore Ihram garments and walked along winding roads until they reached Makkah.
Al-Abbasi entered the city and when he reached the courtyard of the mosque, a guide gestured for him to stop. He pointed to the Kaaba and said: “Look. Look at the house of God.”
The Spaniard was deeply affected by the reverence of his experience. He wrote: “The house of God is covered with a black robe from above to be draped, surrounded by a ring of lamps, the unaccustomed hour and the stillness of the night; and our guide, who was speaking before us as if he were inspired, all these images formed an amazing image that will not be erased from my memory.”
He remained in the city, living among noblemen and aristocrats. The governor of Makkah even asked him to help clean the Kaaba. Describing one of the many incredible sights that he witnessed, during a year when the number of pilgrims was 83,000, Al-Abbasi wrote: “Only in Arafat can one get an idea of the majestic scene of pilgrimage. There are countless people from all nations and colors from every corner of the world. Despite the thousands of countless dangers and obstacles that they had to overcome, all of them worship one God. Everyone counts themselves as members of one family. There is no intermediary between man and his Lord; everyone is equal before their creator.”
Al-Abbasi, who later wrote of his experiences, was the first European to present to the world a detailed account of Makkah, unlike the fragmented notes of earlier travelers such as Ludovico di Varthema and Joseph Bates. He went so far as to include a precise location, determined through astronomical observation, and recreated a map of the Grand Mosque.
Al-Abbasi continued to travel, visiting many countries before he died of dysentery in 1818, in Aleppo, Syria. He was buried in Balqa, near Amman, the capital of Jordan.