Inspiring a new generation of Saudi women

Earlier this month, many in Saudi Arabia joined in celebrating International Women’s Day. For many of us here, this landmark moment reflected the change that is taking place in attitudes towards women, and the importance of their role in the future of the Kingdom.

At Alwaleed Philanthropies, we also celebrated an important moment last week. We hosted an international conference to discuss ‘The evolving role of women in Saudi Arabia’ — the first event of its kind in Riyadh. We brought together industry experts and leading thinkers from around the world, to exchange experiences and help shape a vision of our future.

It was a historic moment for our foundation. I was proud to sit among so many extraordinary Saudi women who challenged existing social norms and crossed boundaries, paving the way for others to follow.

One of the many inspiring voices we heard from was Dr. Lama Al Sulaiman. She talked to us about the obstacles she has overcome to become the first woman in Saudi Arabia to be elected as a board member in the Chamber of Commerce. At the conference, she asserted, “women in leadership positions today is a must, and there should be women everywhere”.

We also heard from Adwa Al Dakheel, whose utter refusal to be held back by traditional gender norms eventually led to her becoming one of the youngest Saudi entrepreneurs, a best-selling author and the first Saudi female aerobatic pilot.

Many of the achievements we celebrated at our conference would not have been possible without the courage and conviction of previous generations of Saudi women, our mothers and grandmothers. The women who lacked the access to education that we now enjoy, but who made sure to encourage their daughters to push forward and upward.

In the past few years, women in Saudi Arabia have been able to make enormous strides that would not have been possible the decade before. Many of us have succeeded in areas that were previously not available to us.

At an individual level, take Hadeel Ayoub, a digital design expert who developed the ‘Bright Sing Glove’, which translates sign language to written text and speech and helps give a voice to those who cannot speak.

At a national level, look at women’s university enrolment figures. There are now more women than men in the university systems, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Education. Over the past ten years Saudi female employment levels have risen by 48%, and thirty women now sit on the Shura Council.

Our challenge now is to build on this momentum. It is our duty to encourage and inspire a new generation of strong and ambitious Saudi women who know exactly what they want and will not be intimidated by the challenges that lie ahead.

At Alwaleed Philanthropies, we meet this challenge head on. Led by a team of highly dynamic and empowered Saudi women, we were delighted to have been involved in the historic 2015 women’s election to municipal councils, through partnership with Shareeka Program to educate women on campaigning.

We have helped to empower women by spreading awareness of their legal rights, through the Wa’iyah Initiative for Women’s Legal Rights. And we have provided educational support for women through work with Taiba Women’s Society in order to reduce female unemployment.

We also recently announced a partnership with the Thomson Reuters Foundation to launch an innovative training programme for female Saudi journalists. The partnership will provide journalists with training on the critical global challenge of women’s empowerment, including Sustainable Development Goal 5 — the global goal to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

We are proud of our achievements, and this event was a celebration of how far we have come. But our attention will now turn to how much more we plan to achieve.

There is much more to do — and we must pull together in order to make further progress. Together, we can help shape the future role of women in our country.

HRH Princess Lamia bint Majed AlSaud

Secretary General of Alwaleed Philanthropies