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.

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