Saudi Arabia: Kingdom appoints first female deputy minister

Arab News
Nora bint Abdullah Al-Fayez was appointed by royal decree as the deputy education minister for girls’ affairs.
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.
“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 position.

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.

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.

15 February 2009

By: Hassna’a Mokhtar