News Agencies Feed 

Paths to new careers open up

Saudi Arabia, March 8, 2018

Economic changes in the Kingdom including diversification plans, minimizing the public sector, and encouraging women to enter the labor market have had a major spillover effect on social norms. Today’s youth live in an environment with different challenges and opportunities than their parents’ age. In the past prior to the 1980s, women who worked were limited to education and healthcare jobs until recent decades that gave access to numerous sectors.

Around 52 percent of university graduates in Saudi Arabia are women. Although unemployment remains a challenge, many young women express they are passionate about pursuing new fields of studies that were introduced in less than a decade, such as engineering, architecture, law, international relations, and filmmaking, among others.

Universities, including private women colleges, have begun to offer such specialties that were previously exclusive to male students. Many students enrolled in the new programs believe that universities’ taking this step will eventually lead to allowing women to use their degrees in the labor market in the coming years.

The Ministry of Labor recently disclosed any women are allowed to work in any sector as long as they are provided “a safe working environment”.

“There are still fields that are gender-oriented but this has started to change,” said Dr. Rufaida Hussain Khashoggi, vice rector of the University of Business and Technology (UBT) that prides itself in designing programs that are compatible with the market needs.

“Some women universities don’t have the chance to invite male university professors and vice versa. However, technology has facilitated these barriers via remote learning and teaching through virtual tools.”

“Some jobs today are still not ready to employ women even though I believe both men and women are capable in working any job. If a woman sets her mind to something, she can. Saudi women have been able to enter fields including medicine, engineering, and even space,” said Dr. Khashoggi, who was previously assigned to attain the university’s NCAAA accreditation during its early stages.

As a university professor, she also led the establishing committee of Dar Al-Hekma University that started out as a new women’s college in the late 1990s, which she described as an enriching experience.

“The education system for women has advanced significantly during the period that Saudi Arabia has developed,” she says. “I consider them giant leaps in a short period of time compared to other countries, many of which have taken more than a hundred years to grant certain rights to women. Before the decree allowing women to drive, women were already empowered and represented in government and private organizations.”

Women leaders in education agree that education has paved the way for more women to work.

Dr. Elham Hassanain, vice president for academic affairs at University of Prince Mugrin, said the recent reforms in eliminating barriers to female citizens have further empowered women. “The reforms are an indication that we’re advancing fast. Women have always had the potential and now it’s time for them to show they can do it,” she said. “They have shown they are capable in all the fields they have entered.”

There remains shyness among many workingwomen to take up leadership, she believed. “It’s in the culture that women tend to stand in the back but they need to exert leadership skills and show what they have for us to reach gender equality.”

Dr. Hassanain holds a PhD in engineering, a specialty that was previously unavailable to females. She agrees that universities should work closely with the job market to tailor education according to potential careers. At the computer science college in the university she works in, new fields have been introduced such as cyber-security and forensic computing, to accommodate to the future’s needs.

Moreover, government scholarships have encouraged both men and women to studying new specialties abroad, aiming to create opportunities and filling the market gaps back home.

Dr. Afnan Al-Shuaiby said her graduate studies in leadership administration the United States paved the way to her rise in diplomacy. Her appointment in 2007 as secretary general of the Arab British Chamber of Commerce made big headlines at the time for a Saudi woman representing the Kingdom on the international stage.

Although it was considered a leap forward to be appointed to fill in this post more than a decade ago, opportunities for women back home have expanded significantly since then.

“I think the recent reforms and advancements in women empowerment are very positive,” she said. “Women should make use of it in the appropriate manner and make it to the interest of their future and of the country.”

Commenting on the recent advancements for Saudi women, she said women should prepare themselves for opportunities. “Firstly, they need to prepare for getting a good education. It’s important for them to study something they like to do and excel in.”

“Secondly, young graduates need to knock on all doors although it’s not always easy. Education alone cannot land you the job of your dreams. I encourage young women to gain as much experience as they can whether in internships or volunteer work in order to excel in their career paths. It doesn’t need to be directly related to what they’re studying but getting work experience is different than working hard in school.”

She believes government scholarships for higher education abroad are one of many opportunities given to Saudi women who can explore different fields that were not provided to them before.