As a symbol of the progress of Saudi Arabian women, Dr. Khawla Al-Kuraya stands apart. Al-Kuraya’s accomplishments are formidable. She is the first Saudi woman to receive the King Abdulaziz Award for Excellence, which was awarded for her contributions in the field of cancer research. She is the first person to identify a gene, called FOSM1 that prompts the formation of cancer cells in the human body and several of her research articles have been published in scientific journals in Europe and the USA in addition to in the Arab world.
Currently director of the Research Center at King Fahd National Center for Children’s Cancer, King Faisal Specialist Hospital (KFSH) in Riyadh, Al-Kuraya has just been named to the Shoura Council. She remarked with some amazement that almost 50 years ago, Saudi women were prohibited from receiving a basic elementary education in this country and now she sits among her male counterparts as an adviser to the governing body.
She shared her thoughts with Irfan Mohammed of Arab News about this momentous event.
How do you feel about your nomination to the Shoura Council?
I feel tremendously honored and privileged to be entrusted with this responsibility and to be able to represent the women of this nation and make sure their voices, opinions and demands are finally heard and attended to.
What differences do you see stemming from the induction of women members in the Shoura Council?
Naturally, with the inclusion of women in the council, we will witness greater focus on issues pertaining to women’s rights in the Kingdom and to ensuring that Saudi women are empowered by their female representatives in the council. In addition, I believe this bold step is a precursor to a much deeper involvement of the Saudi woman in the governmental and political sphere as a leader.
What is your message to the rest of the world, especially to Europe and North America?
I hope they are able to realize the magnitude of this event, keeping in mind that not too long ago the majority of Saudi women were growing up illiterate as they were prohibited from receiving education. Now, just 50 years later, Saudi women make up 20 percent of the nation’s most influential advisory council. Though not a parliamentary committee per se in terms of structure, members of the Shoura Council have the right to raise, discuss and address any and every issue related to the Saudi society they represent. The inclusion of females in this council is nothing short of revolutionary!
What do you want to say to Saudi Arabian society?
First, I’d like to extend my gratitude to Saudi society for all of the support they have shown the female members of the council including myself. You can really sense their joy upon hearing such news and notice an awakened sense of optimism toward a future in which Saudi women and men are granted equal respect and opportunity. My message to Saudi society: Keep celebrating because what the future holds for us as a society deserves nothing less than celebration.
Do you feel that your involvement in the Shoura can affect your outstanding performance in your field of research?
I will do my very best to ensure that the quality of my research is unaffected by my participation in the Council. Similarly, I will try my hardest to devote as much time as I can to address the matters of my country and society and to fully engage as a committed member of the council. It will certainly be challenging at first, but I don’t think that maintaining such a balance will prove problematic in the long run.