‘More than 50%’: Saudi minister reaffirms government call for women’s central role in reforms

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih told Arab News women should be central to achieving Vision 2030.
Updated 09 March 2018
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‘More than 50%’: Saudi minister reaffirms government call for women’s central role in reforms

LONDON: Women should be “central” to achieving the nation’s ambitious Vision 2030, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih told Arab News on International Women’s Day.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Saudi-UK CEO Forum in London, the minister said that women being able to drive was “insignificant in the wider scheme of things.”
“What matters,” he said, “is making sure that they have access to skills training and access to jobs. What matters is they have access to investment opportunities so we ensure that the power of women is unleashed to represent their great capabilities.”
Al-Falih added: “There is great potential for all Saudi citizens … certainly women will have more than their share, which should be more than 50 percent.”
Saudi Arabia has announced a string of reforms in recent months aimed at improving opportunities for women in the Kingdom. Alongside being able to drive, Saudi Arabia’s women can now join the Shoura Council, license their own businesses and take part in sports, among many other new freedoms in a country that is in the throes of modernization and change.
Speaking at the same event on a panel, Princess Reema bint Bandar, vice president of the General Sports Authority of Saudi Arabia, said that women joining the Shoura Council has allowed for the “escalation of women’s needs.”
Princess Reema added the creation of a sports ecosystem for women would be critical to job creation and female empowerment.
She said: “It will benefit women to be included in sports. We want to focus on the ecosystem – we are looking for females that are engineers in the stadiums or trainers which will enable the athletes, for example … which all leads to the end product of the ecosystem: The female athlete.”
Saudi Deputy Minister of Labor Tamader Al-Rammah told the audience that contrary to some global perceptions, women’s empowerment started in Saudi Arabia in the 1960s with the provision of extensive education for females.
“(Women’s empowerment) has been slow but steady,” she said. “Today we are ready for it and we can see the changes are happening rapidly.”
On the controversial subject of gender quotas, Al-Rammah said: “I think the best way to do it is to have the best person for each position. On the other hand, you should remove all barriers to that position.
“Perhaps after some time, we’ll decide that we need quotas. In the meantime, Saudi Arabian women are not shy and the men support us. I don’t think we will need quotas, we will get there.”
Al-Rammah added that the need to funnel women into the workplace was “urgent.”
“We are in a time where we don’t have time,” she said.
Al-Rammah added 95 percent of new Saudi jobs will require digital skills. She said: “It’s very important to set that online goal now. It’s important women get online. What’s making me not sleep at night is not whether women drive, it’s whether they are equipped for the future digitally.”


Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving

Updated 24 June 2018
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Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving

  • They start their engines and hit the roads throughout the Kingdom
  • End of driving ban is crowning achievement so far of Saudi Vision 2030

Women throughout Saudi Arabia waited for the stroke of midnight, turned the keys in the ignition, fired up their engines — and hit the road to a bright new future.

It was the moment they had waited for since King Salman issued the royal decree on September 26, 2017, to lift the driving ban on women. 

Just after midnight on Saturday and in the first minutes of Sunday, Samah Algosaibi grabbed the keys to her family’s 1959 Corvette C1 and drove out of the driveway of her beach house in Khobar.
“We are witnessing history in the making as we look toward the dawn of a promising future,” said Algosaibi, the first female board member of Ahmad Hamad Algosaibi & Bros.

“As a businesswoman in Saudi Arabia, I am grateful for the women’s empowerment movement taking place. Today, I am honored to be sitting behind the wheel of change.”

Another woman to hit the road after midnight was Lina Almaeena, a member of the Saudi Shoura Council. “It feels very liberating,” she said about driving her mother’s Lexus.
Almaeena, also the co-founder and director of Jeddah United Sports Co, had exchanged her UAE license for a Saudi one. 

“I am thrilled!” Sarah Alwassia, 35, a nutritionist in Jeddah, told Arab News. “I learnt how to drive 18 years ago in the States where I got my driving license. I can’t believe that the day to drive in my own home town has come.”

Alwassia obtained her first American license when she was 18 years old in 2000, and had it exchanged for a Saudi license on June 6 in Jeddah. She explained that she is a mother, and this change provided comfort for her and her family. It also comes with various benefits, such as taking quick action in emergencies, and economic benefits such as saving money instead of paying for a driver when she needs to run errands. 

“I will be driving my kids to school and picking them up in comfort and privacy,” she said.

Women in the Kingdom commented on how this event is changing the course of their lives. “Independence is a huge thing for me,” Alwassia said. “Driving is one small part of it. I am very optimistic of the change that our loving country has made.”  

Alwassia applauds the efforts the country has made to support women. “I am confident that driving in the beginning will be pleasant, since our country has made all of the effort to support women and to protect them.
“I think our society was looking forward for this change, and I am sure the majority will adapt fast.

“I feel safe, our country did everything to make this transition pleasant and safe for every woman behind the wheel. I am really thankful to witness this historic moment and I am so happy for all the women in Saudi Arabia, especially my daughters.”
Sahar Nasief, 64, a retired lecturer from the European languages and Literature Department at King Abdulaziz University, said: “Nothing could describe my feelings. I can't wait to get on the road.”
Nasief received a very special gift from Ford for this occasion.

“They gave me a 2018 Expedition to drive for three days, a Mustang California Special,” she told Arab News.

Nasief obtained her Saudi license on June 7. She also holds a British license and two American licenses. “Now, I have my national license too,” she said. 

She also said the lifting of the ban provided a sense of relief. “I feel that I can practice one of my rights, and I don't have to live at the mercy of my driver any more.”
Society has been demanding such a change for years, “as it will take the physical and economic burden off most men.”
Pointing to the anti-harassment law, Nasief said: “I feel very confident especially after announcing the strict harassment law.”
Joumana Mattar, 36, a Jordanian interior designer, exchanged her Jordanian driver’s license and obtained a Saudi one on June 11. 

“I had my Jordanian license since I was 18 years old, and the moment I heard about the opening of exchanging foreign licenses, I immediately booked an appointment,” she said.
Mattar said she looks forward to the change in so many ways. “I'm finally in control of my time, schedule and privacy.” 

Mattar said she is both confident and anxious about the event. “I'm anxious only for feeling that I'm part of a huge first step for women driving in the Kingdom, but I'm confident also because of the support that I'm getting from my husband and family.
“Every first step is the hardest. Society is facing a huge change, but I'm positive because this change is done and supported by the government and Vision 2030.”

Mattar said she feels secure now. “I'm in control of any case I'm facing.”

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