Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Saudi Women Excel and Lead Competently

Director’s Comment: Under severe political, religious, economic and cultural conditions and man-made hurdles that subsist only in Saudi Arabia in the 21st century, many Saudi women are courageously pushing boundaries. There is no other country on earth where institutionalized and scrupulously enforced policies exist to deny women their full citizenship and human rights. Women are prevented from developing their natural talents and applying them to support themselves and contribute to the building of their country, and the price for such unnatural practices is very high. For example, Saudi public and private sectors employ between eight and ten million imported workers while more than 80% of educated and able Saudi women are denied the right to work. Saudi women are forced into depending on male relatives for all their needs, including applying for a job and obtaining life-saving medication. This denigrating practice is known as the male guardianship system and it is enforced by all government agencies. Despite these destructive policies and restrictions, many Saudi women are leading the way in undermining their number one nemesis, male oppression.

Some of Saudi women’s remarkable accomplishments are noticeable and measurable in the media, limited businesses and academia, but above all in female-run learning institutions throughout the country. Known for its progressive residents’ laissez-faire attitude, Jeddah is the home of Dar Al-Hekma (house of Wisdom) women’s college. Founded in 1999, Dar Al-Hekma is graduating some of the best and brightest students anywhere in the world. Dar Al-Hekma is successful under the enlightened leadership of its dean, the sophisticated, highly educated and women’s rights advocate Dr. Suhair Hassan Al-Quraishi, and tireless instructors like Reem Asaad, the internationally known leader of the lingerie movement (dubbed the Bra Revolution in Saudi Arabia by a Swedish paper).

Despite its short history, small size and very modest budget, Dar Al-Hekma has graduated close to one thousand highly trained Saudi women who pursue careers in a country where there is still official gender segregation in the workplace and where a highly educated woman must provide a male relative’s approval before she can be considered for employment.,. Both the students and faculty of Dar Al-Hekma strive to excel, be financially independent and propel their country into a bright, tolerant, safe and prosperous future. These women deserve the support of the Saudi government, media, wealthy and enlightened Saudis and the international community, especially the U.S, Saudi Arabia’s reliable ally.

If replicated throughout Saudi Arabia without intervention from any government ministry or agency, especially the religious establishment, the Dar Al-Hekma model could change the educational landscape of Saudi Arabia. Dr. Al-Quraishi and her colleagues have proven their first-class capabilities and have had the experience to excel. They should be entrusted with creating five new campuses in Riyadh, Qatif, Braidah, Abha, and Ha’il. The Saudi private sector and government can spare $ 1 billion for the expansion of this national treasure.

Empowering Saudi women is in the best interest of all Saudis, rulers and ruled. Because of its centrality to Islam and its possession of large quantities of oil reserves, Saudi Arabia’s stability and security matter to the international community. There is no better way to achieve stability, prosperity and security than to support Saudi women in their quest to obtain their full rights and their place in Saudi society, the Muslim and Arab Worlds and the international community.

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