Sunday 15 February 2009 (20 Safar 1430)
First woman minister ignites hopes
Hassna'a Mokhtar | Arab News
JEDDAH: History was made yesterday with the appointment by royal decree
of a Saudi woman, Nora bint Abdullah Al-Fayez, as the deputy education minister
for girls' affairs.
"This is an honor not only for me, but for all Saudi women. In the
presence of a comprehensive operational team, I believe I'll be able to face
challenges and create positive change," Al-Fayez told Arab News.
Al-Fayez began her career as a schoolteacher in 1982 working her way up
to become in 2001 the director general of the women's section at the Institute
of Public Administration. Her long experience in the educational sector and her
husband's encouragement and support paved the way for her to reach this
Many Saudis welcomed the new deputy minister expressing hope in her
appointment. A woman educator working in a supervisory position said this was a
wise decision to serve and develop the Kingdom's educational sector.
"This is a successful step. We've always suffered from having a man
occupy the position. A woman knows what problems and challenges her peers face.
It's a change for the better," said the educator.
Ali Al-Twati, a Saudi academic and writer, said having a woman occupy the
position of deputy minister is a must. "It is compulsory, not optional, to have
women occupy leadership positions. Since the number of schools in Saudi Arabia
exceeds 10,000, girls need a reference in the ministry to listen to their
issues and understand them," said Al-Twati.
He also said that segregation makes it easier for women in the Kingdom to
reach high leadership positions. There are more women in key positions in the
country than in developed countries, he added.
Haifa Jamal Al-Lail, dean of Effat College, expressed her delight, adding
that the appointment serves as an impetus for women to get into leading
positions to contribute to the development of Saudi society.
"This is not just about having the first woman deputy minister. It's
about having more women in important positions. Al-Fayez's presence in the
Ministry of Education will make women's voices heard," said Al-Lail.
Despite optimism for a better future, Khaled Al-Radihan, assistant
professor of anthropology at King Saud University in Riyadh, said it would not
be easy. "There is a conservative stream of people who won't accept the
situation easily. If the deputy minister proves herself and succeeds, then
things might take a different turn. However, it's a positive change and a good
opportunity for a better future," said Al-Radihan.
Asma Siddiki, associate dean for development at the Dubai School of
Government, congratulated Al-Fayez, describing her appointment as a milestone
for women in Saudi Arabia.
"Our government is to be commended for recognizing women's achievements.
Given the remarkable progress women are making in the Kingdom, and the
investment the government is making in education, I don't doubt there'll be
many such senior appointments in the future," said Siddiki.