Evolving Saudi women are only just getting started

Evolving Saudi women are only just getting started

Sunday’s 88th National Day was a perfect opportunity to reflect on the last year and how it has brought about many inspiring achievements by Saudi women across the Kingdom, which have also been witnessed around the world. There is much to be said as to the underrepresentation of Saudi women by the international community. Despite constant criticism painting a tarnished image of their ability to participate in society, Saudi women have taken steps that prove their empowerment, skillful abilities and positive contributions to Saudi Arabia and the world. 

It is thus of the utmost importance that we recognize the historic accomplishments that Saudi women have achieved. While international attention has been drawn to women’s participation in society in Saudi Arabia, it is our duty as proud Saudi citizens to acknowledge their achievements, therefore encouraging future generations of women to fulfill their potential. 

As part of Saudi Vision 2030, ambitious efforts are underway to increase women’s employment from its current rate of 22 percent to 30 percent by 2030. As a result of social and economic reform, the Ministry of Labor and Social Development reported earlier this year that women’s employment has already risen by 140 percent over the last four years — a clear sign that the female half of the country is now more engaged in the economy than ever. 

Even though these numbers are encouraging, it should be obvious that we have yet to see the full potential of Saudi women. Industries such as engineering, financial technology (fintech), commercial services, and even government policy continue to present budding opportunities for Saudi women to contribute their talents and excel.

Inspiring Saudi women have elevated the ceiling of achievement over the last year and empowered others to pursue their dreams. Mishaal Ashemimry, an aerospace engineer and CEO of her own company, MISHAAL Aerospace, last year became the first Saudi woman to join NASA, fulling her dreams of working in the aerospace industry. 

She states: “My fascination with space started while gazing at the stars in the Unaizah desert. Since then my focus has been to become an aerospace engineer and contribute to the development of space vehicles and rockets.” As she has fulfilled dreams and broken barriers for Saudi women, she continues to be a public advocate for the Arab youth to pursue their dreams. 
The Saudi National Day is a reminder for us to cherish the achievements Saudi women have accomplished, as well as look forward to what the future holds. Most importantly, we are just getting started.
Reem Daffa
It is impossible to talk about Saudi women’s empowerment without addressing this year’s most historic development, when women started to obtain driver’s licenses in Saudi Arabia. But Saudi women getting behind the wheel has not stopped with operating vehicles on the road — just last month five women were issued pilot’s licenses by the General Authority of Civil Aviation for the first time. This trajectory only leaves room for exponential growth in the aviation and engineering sectors, invariably increasing women’s employment opportunities. 
In a recent interview with Al-Arabiya, Yasmine Al-Maimni, one of the newly licensed pilots, described her determination to break this barrier, stating: “Why not in Saudi Arabia? I am currently working in an airline in the department of safety and security, but I did not give up on my demands to get a job as a pilot.” Al-Maimni’s courage to pursue a career previously untapped by females displays a unique form of activism and empowerment, which is inspiring to all women in Saudi Arabia. 
The voices of women such as Al-Maimni are even being heard in the highest advocacy board in the Kingdom, the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia — otherwise known as the Shoura Council. According to the World Bank, women make up 20 percent of the council. This is an even greater percentage than that of women in Congress in the US. 
One of the most outstanding trailblazers paving new paths for Saudi women to pursue is Princess Reema bint Bandar, Vice-President of Development and Planning at the General Sports Authority. Not only is she a key advocate for developing women’s participation in Saudi society generally, but she also recognizes the transformative effect of sports in particular. By facilitating participation in a variety of sports, she knows she will help to foster the competitive spirit that will enable women to pursue their entrepreneurial endeavors.
She has said: “I am building an entire sports ecosystem: From the athletes to the female ushers and security guards, we’re going from the micro to the macro to the triple macro. Every sector in the country requires a down chain.” Her advocacy on behalf of Saudi women is empowering, as her position in the GSA allows Saudi women to break stereotypes and realize their true potential.
Sunday’s Saudi National Day was a reminder for us to cherish the achievements Saudi women have accomplished, as well as look forward to what the future holds for our transforming society. When reflecting upon 88 years of our history, we should always remember to maintain this positive evolution, never caving in to outside forces that demand that Saudi women go through a revolution. Most importantly, our National Day not only reminds us that our social cohesion is incorruptible, but that Saudi women are just getting started.

• Reem Daffa is vice president and executive director of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee (SAPRAC).
Twitter: @ReemDaffa

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