Environmentalist: Majda Abu Rass

Environmentalist: Majda Abu Rass
Updated 16 July 2012

Environmentalist: Majda Abu Rass

Environmentalist: Majda Abu Rass

Majda Abu Rass is the first Saudi woman to specialize in oil-contaminated soil treatment. She has a doctorate degree in Biotechnology of Environmental Contaminants and worked as associate professor at King Abdul Aziz University's Biotechnology department. She is a board member and deputy executive director of the Saudi Environmental Society, director of the Euro-Arab women program for environment development of the Switzerland-based Euro-Arab Environment Organization and an honorary member of the International Federation of Business and Professional Women in New York. She received the membership of the latter due to the rarity of her specialty, which was also the reason NASA selected her as a member of a research team. Arab News interviews Abu Rass to find out more about her work and achievements.

Why did you choose this field?
At the university I was admitted in microbiology, and, as biotechnology has become a global industry, I wanted to apply both sciences in the field of environment. Since I started teaching in college, my interests and activities have been always related to the environment. I love modern sciences, especially the ones dealing with the environment.

NASA selected you as a regional researcher. Can you tell us more about it?
First, I would like to dedicate this accomplishment to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. Thanks to him, a realistic vision for women advancement was achieved in his rule. He had stressed that women in Islam’s history were effective at home and at work. His decisions implied the concept that women’s role cannot be sidelined. He saw the importance of including women in the Shoura Council as members and announced that they deserve to nominate themselves for the membership of municipal councils. I am very happy with the selection that I dedicate to my home country.

When did you decided to establish a civil body that deals with environmental issues?
It was when I found a dead bird in the garden at home during the days when bird flu was spreading; I called a government body to ask how I can dispose it of, and the man on the other end just hung up on me; I wrapped the bird in a plastic bag and buried it, and since then the idea of establishing a society that finds out solutions to environmental crisis began in my mind. I wanted it to be women-only; so I talked to a group of friends and determined goals (of the society); however, the Presidency of Meteorology and Environment was about to announce the inception of its Saudi Environmental Society (SENS), at which I was appointed by Prince Turki Bin Naser as a founder member, then board member, then I was assigned as the society’s acting executive director.
I am proud to say that the National Program for Environmental Awareness and Sustainable Development was my idea. I started planning for it in 2007, and Prince Turki adopted it under SENS. This program aims on the short term to spread awareness, and on the long term, it aims to have regulations implemented by approaching most ministries in Saudi Arabia.

Is Saudi society aware of the importance of preserving the environment?
Many people are aware of the environment. In Jeddah, I would say 60 percent of people are aware, although some of them do not act or take a stand. And there is a segment who does not care and is not interested in environment.

Do young people comprise the uninterested segment?
On the contrary, young people are the most interested and zealous, and we at the society are trying to adopt and support their programs and plans regarding the environment. They are the best tool for a society to develop, but they need support.

In your opinion, why are we lagging behind countries advanced in terms of environment protection?
We have to properly implement environment protection laws. Some regulations were issued recently, like the one fining those throwing wastes in the street, but the implementation is as it should be.

How can women contribute to protecting the environment?
At the Euro-Arab Environment Organization, I categorized women based on their role in life and women in each of the three categories can contribute within that role. Housewives and mothers are important in that regard as they can contribute in protecting the environment in their houses and through educating and upbringing children; the other categories are women academics and businesswomen, and each of the three has a program and workshops.

What is the Saudi Environmental Society offering for the education sector?
The society signed an agreement with the Minister of Education based on the National Program for Environmental Awareness and Sustainable Development that aims at educating children about the importance of preserving the environment starting from kindergarten, primary and intermediate levels. It also involves courses for teachers on how to include environmental programs in different curricula without them (the programs) being a basic subject. However, we are concentrating our efforts on kindergarten and primary schools. The society succeeded in introducing its environmental awareness programs at 332 schools (in the country).

What do you think about the efforts of Arab and Muslim countries toward environment protection?
Malaysia is one of the pioneering countries in environment protection. Among Arab countries, I think Abu Dhabi and the UAE have done a lot in that regard.

What do you think about the future of environment?
I am optimistic about it. We have the capabilities and tools that help us in carrying out development. There is a clear interaction from society and each year is better than the one before in terms of our work.

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