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

Saudi women in the Shoura Council have come a long way. (SPA)
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.”

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