Makkah governor launches raft of pilgrimage initiatives

Saudi Arabia aims to make it easier for pilgrims to perform Hajj and Umrah. (Supplied)
Updated 20 January 2019
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Makkah governor launches raft of pilgrimage initiatives

  • The launch of four new initiatives as part of a drive to modernize Hajj and Umrah

JEDDAH: Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal, opened the Makkah Cultural Forum on Sunday, where he addressed growing demands to improve pilgrimage experiences for Muslims visiting holy sites and cities in Saudi Arabia.
Called “How to Develop Cities to Serve the Hajj and Umrah,” the forum was the first of its kind for over 12 years. In that time, the prince said, the Kingdom has made great strides forward in developing innovative, creative ways of improving pilgrimages, and now welcomed people from across the Islamic world “with a smile,” but now needed to do more, and not rest on its laurels.
Prince Khaled, who chaired the forum, announced the launch of four new initiatives as part of a drive to modernize Hajj and Umrah. He also signed off on a number of smaller agreements between the city of Makkah, several Saudi universities, and the ministries of Islamic Affairs and Hajj and Umrah, to improve organization of the pilgrimages and the provision of services to participants.
The four initiatives, drawn up with the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah included establishing a training center, and ratifying a code of ethics and conduct, for government employees working on pilgrimages, refining and improving the Yusr app for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims, and supporting the Sadiq Al-Moatamir (Friend of the Pilgrim) initiative, which has so far trained over 1 million Hajj volunteers.
Dr. Abdul Fattah bin Suleiman Mashat, deputy minister for Hajj and Umrah, stressed that serving pilgrims was a top priority for the Kingdom.
“Since its inception, Saudi Arabia has served pilgrims; it is one of our most important founding principles. We aim to motivate Muslims and make it easier for them to perform the Hajj and Umrah rituals, and encourage investors to help serve pilgrims,” he said, adding that in all the initiatives, sustainability in supporting businesses, citizens and pilgrims on Hajj and Umrah was essential.
To ensure this, he said, the forum would need to “think outside the box,” and adopt measures to oversee and “incubate” all of the agreed initiatives, providing assistance and consultations.
The ceremony concluded with the additional signing of nine agreements between government agencies and private organizations, including a memorandum of strategic cooperation between ministries as part of the Hajj training center initiative.
There were also agreements to finance shaded parking spaces, smart guide boards and air-conditioned lounges to accommodate pilgrims, and a number of other developments related to improving infrastructure in Makkah, Jeddah and elsewhere, between, among others, the cities’ authorities, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the Saudi Electricity Co.


Saudi women flourish as STEM graduates

Dr. Fatima Alakeel, cybersecurity expert. (AN photo)
Updated 2 min 43 sec ago
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Saudi women flourish as STEM graduates

  • While they outnumber men as graduates in these subjects, finding jobs can be a challenge

DUBAI: More and more girls in Saudi Arabia are opting for an education in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and now the challenge is finding them employment, said Dr. Fatima Alakeel, a cybersecurity expert and faculty member at King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh.
“In the Kingdom, STEM-related jobs are limited at the moment, as the economy is primarily oil-based and there are few technical jobs available,” said Alakeel, who is also the founder and CEO of the non-profit Confidentiality, Integrity & Availability Group (CIAG), which focuses on information security training and research in Riyadh.
According to a government report on the labor market situation in the third quarter of 2018, more than 30 percent of Saudi women aged between 15 and 65 are unemployed.
Among them, the highest rate of unemployment is among 20-24-year-olds (more than 70 percent) and among 25-29-year-olds (55 percent).
According to the report, there are 923,504 Saudi jobseekers, of whom 765,378 are women (82.2 percent).
“We have more girls in STEM education compared to Western countries,” said Alakeel, who completed her doctoral degree in computer science in the UK at the University of Southampton in 2017.
According to a report prepared by the Saudi Education Ministry, girls accounted for 57 percent of undergraduates for the year 2015-2016 in the Kingdom.
That same year, women outnumbered men in graduating with a bachelor’s in biology, information technology (IT), mathematics and statistics, and physics.
According to a survey Alakeel recently conducted on social media, “almost 80 percent of (Saudi) girls were keen to study STEM, but securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,” she said.
Maha Al-Taleb, 22, graduated earlier this year with a degree in technology from KSU, specializing in IT networks and security.
“It’s common for girls in the Kingdom to opt for STEM education,” said Al-Taleb, who now works in a public sector company in Riyadh as a junior information security analyst.
“Saudi women are ambitious. We’re acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers. I don’t know why the world assumes that Saudi women are a backward tribal species who have no say in these matters. This entire perception is flawed.”
Al-Taleb got a job offer immediately after university, but realizes that not all her peers are as fortunate. Women “are facing problems in securing jobs, not because companies don’t want to hire us, but because employment for Saudi youths is a major challenge,” she said.
“In today’s Saudi Arabia, parents are encouraging their daughters to get a degree not just in the Kingdom; they also want them to go to Western universities. It has become a common phenomenon. Things have changed. Women are a crucial part of the nation’s development process.”
Not all women graduating in the Kingdom are as lucky, among them Razan Al-Qahtani. “It has been several months since I graduated, yet I haven’t been able to find a job. It has been a struggle so far,” said the 25-year-old IT graduate. “We have more talented and qualified girls, especially in the field of technology, but there are few jobs available. It’s a difficult situation, but we’re hopeful things will change very soon.”
Al-Qahtani expressed confidence that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan will bring opportunities for qualified Saudis.
As part of Vision 2030, the government has committed to raise employment among Saudi women.
Alakeel said the government is working hard to find a solution, and it is only a matter of time until more such jobs are on offer.
“As per Vision 2030, there will be more jobs, including technical jobs, available in the country. Once we have more jobs, women will eventually get their due share,” she added. According to Alakeel, female empowerment and promotion to leading roles have made huge progress in Saudi Arabia, and this may affect existing STEM job opportunities.
“We’re glad to see Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud becoming the first female ambassador of the country. It only suggests change is on the way,” Alakeel said.
Al-Taleb expressed pride in the way her parents have supported her, saying: “My father isn’t educated and my mother has basic literacy, but both provided me with the education I desired. They want their daughters to be as successful as their sons.”
Like women in any country, the transition from university to the workplace is not always easy, even for young Saudi women with technology degrees. Yet they are not losing hope.
“We realize these are difficult times in terms of employment, especially in technology-related fields, but things will change,” Al-Taleb said. “Saudi women will soon be ruling the fields of STEM all over the country.”