Saudi female air traffic controllers reach for the sky

09/03/20

Saudi women air traffic controllers at work. (Supplied photo)
  • Pilots of international airliners have welcomed Saudi women into the profession

JEDDAH: The number of Saudi female air traffic controllers in the Kingdom has reached 26 after they completed their training at the Saudi Civil Aviation Academy.

The General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) has been empowering Saudi women in several fields, including the profession of air traffic controllers.

Air traffic control (ATC) consists of three main tasks: approach control, air control tower and area control.

Good concentration and quick decision-making are the most important skills of air traffic control personnel.

The importance of this profession is reflected in its impact on the safety, efficiency and regularity of air navigation. It has been classified as one of the most difficult professions globally, which makes it of high importance at the international level.

A number of Saudi female air traffic controllers talked about their start in obtaining a license, and their practical and effective roles in this profession.

Air traffic controller Reem Abdullah explained that the reason she entered the aviation field was the challenges it presented and the passion such sensitive jobs demand.

“We are the first batch of graduates to work in the air traffic control profession and, frankly, it is a very interesting job. Since we started training, we began to get a clear perception of the subject at hand,” she said.

She added: “The training that we received is very intense and accurate and we went through more than ten exams before admission; 11 Saudi girls graduated in that batch.”

After obtaining the license and embarking on her new journey, she said, her colleagues from international airlines were surprised to see a woman taking on such a task. “They started asking: ‘Is this Saudi Arabia? This is Jeddah?’ As time went by, the pilots congratulated me on the job and expressed their high confidence in us.”

Rawan Hubaishi, another air traffic control graduate, also found her new profession to be interesting. “Once you start working in this field, it is hard to do any other job,” she said.

Hubaishi said that the presence of Saudi women in such a profession is the best evidence that they are capable of working in all fields and can perform their work to the highest standards.

Air traffic controller Lina Adel aspires to be the first woman to assume a regional management position.

“The first words we heard when we entered the training was that there is no difference between us and our male colleagues, and that we can work and achieve successes in this profession,” she said. “The profession of air traffic control is very precise and detailed, yet not impossible to conquer.”

Shahad Zareh, an air traffic controller trainee, described the profession as “fun and unconventional.”

“The various exams on this job are not easy at all, but at the same time enjoyable because it is diverse,” she said.

Zareh encouraged her female peers to join the field. “I tell the Saudi girls that the job of air traffic controller is fun and we’re competent and we can do it.”

Air traffic controller Shahad Barakat said that the profession suited her tendencies to overcome challenges and difficulties. “My passion for flying and reading about this sector is behind my love to work as an air traffic controller, and I found that this job suits my preferences, especially that it is a job that has many challenges and is totally unconventional.”

Saudi Arabia possesses an integrated navigation system in air navigation — one of the latest advanced systems at the international level. There are 15 air monitoring units and five maintenance centers operating 24 hours a day in Jeddah and Riyadh.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Women constitute 35% of total Saudi workers in labor market

09/03/20

The highest proportion of licenses was issued in Riyadh, Makkah and the Eastern Province. (AFP/File photo)
  • 174,624 driving licenses were issued for women since lifting of ban, says GASTAT report

RIYADH: The General Authority for Statistics (GASTAT) has issued a special report to mark International Women’s Day under the title “Saudi Women: Partners in Success,” highlighting that Saudi women are an important component of the force contributing to national development in all fields.
The report relied on 166 statistical indicators for Saudi women aged 15 years and over based on the results of the last 11 surveys from GASTAT, as well as log data surveys from the Ministries of Interior, Education, Municipal and Rural Affairs, and Health as well as the National Observatory for Women and the World Bank Group.
The goal was to form a statistical image of women in different social, economic, educational, health, cultural, and recreational fields.
GASTAT’s report found that Saudi women over the age of 15 account for 49 percent of the total population, with close proportions in most of the administrative regions. The average age of Saudi women is 28 years old and half of Saudi women are under 27 years old.

FASTFACTS

• Saudi women over the age of 15 account for 49 percent of the total population.

• The average age of Saudi women is 28 years old and half of Saudi women are under 27 years old.

• The most preferred sport among Saudi women is walking, at 82.5 percent.

The report said that Vision 2030 contributed to enhancing the status of women and their obtaining of more rights through empowerment at the national and international levels. This has allowed women to play a key role in development. Saudi female workers in the labor market constitute 35 percent of the total Saudi workers.
King Salman’s directive to issue driving licenses for women was implemented on June 24, 2018. By Jan. 20, 2020, 174,624 driving licenses had been issued to women. The highest proportion of licenses was issued in Riyadh, Makkah and the Eastern Province, accounting for 90 percent of the total licenses issued to Saudi women.
The most preferred sport among Saudi women is walking, at 82.5 percent.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Arab News closer to goal of gender-balanced newsroom

08/03/2020

Arab News launched its gender-balance initiative in April 2018 during the inaugural Arab Women Forum at King Abdullah Economic City. (AN Photo by Huda Bashatah)

  • Gender-balance initiative was launched in April 2018 at inaugural Arab Women Forum
  • Over the past year, proportion of female editorial staff has risen from 35 to 46 percent

JEDDAH: Arab News has made great strides in improving the gender balance among staff in its newsrooms, and is getting close to its goal of achieving a 50:50 split by the end of this year.
The Riyadh-based newspaper revealed that in the past year, the proportion of female editorial staff has increased from 35 percent to 46 percent.
This includes employees at its offices in Saudi Arabia, London and Dubai, along with its regular op-ed writers and foreign correspondents. An all-female team was also assembled to provide special coverage of Hajj.
Arab News launched its gender-balance initiative in April 2018 during the inaugural Arab Women Forum at King Abdullah Economic City. The efforts it has employed to achieve its goal include active recruitment, and specialist training and career guidance provided by experienced professionals at the newspaper and from other prestigious news organizations. It has been assisted by the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, the paper’s publisher.
Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas said the initiative reflects the wider reforms in Saudi Arabia in recent years, which includes a drive to encourage more women to enter the workforce.
Assembling a diverse newsroom is not simply a box-ticking exercise, he added, it is about providing equal opportunities to all skilled journalists in Saudi Arabia and beyond.
“It is also about serving the community better by doing what we do best: Quality, insightful and inclusive journalism,” Abbas said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Faces of Saudi: Arab News project profiling inspirational women in Saudi Arabia

08/03/2020

FacesOfSaudi.com features portraits and profiles of inspiring Saudi women from a wide range of backgrounds who defy Western society’s stereotypes. (Arab News)

  • FacesOfSaudi.com is an expansion of Arab News’ popular weekly feature The Face.

To mark International Women’s Day on March 8, Arab News, Saudi Arabia’s English-language daily, is launching a special website that celebrates successful Saudi women.

FacesOfSaudi.com features portraits and profiles of inspiring Saudi women from a wide range of backgrounds who defy Western society’s stereotypes.

“Saudi society is one that may still remain a mystery to some, but through this series I shed light on successful Saudi women in their homes, with their families,” said Rawan Radwan, a Saudi journalist with Arab News and the paper’s regional correspondent. “This series shows the world just who they are and their drive behind their success.”

FacesOfSaudi.com is an expansion of Arab News’ popular weekly feature The Face. “It was a wonderful experience being part of The Face, specifically the photography aspect where we were in our natural environment and not staged,” said fitness entrepreneur Fatima Batook. “To be among many women who make a positive impact in their communities is an honor. So proud that it still continues.”

FacesOfSaudi.com is the latest in a series of initiatives in keeping with the news organization’s mandate as “the voice of a changing region.”

“Arab News has been a champion of Saudi women as they step into their rightful place in society under the reforms of Vision 2030, including a 50/50 gender-balance target in our newsrooms,” Radwan said. “FacesOfSaudi.com is one of the best expressions of what we do: Pulling the veil off the world’s misconceptions of the Kingdom.”

Among our first Faces are research scientist Dr. Yasmin Altwaijri, UN diplomat Basma Alshaalan and Dina Alfaris, cofounder of the first Saudi caviar farm and founder of the Qamrah fashion brand. “I remind myself and all women to own our aspirations, believe in our power to live up to our potential with confidence, and enjoy the purposeful world,” Alfaris said. “We are ready to embrace ambition.”

Faces of Saudi will have its own pages on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook where users can interact and share these fascinating and true stories of successful women from the Kingdom.

Follow Faces of Saudi on social media:

Twitter.com/facesofsaudi
Instagram.com/facesofsaudi
Facebook.com/facesofsaudi

This article was first published in Arab News

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On International Women’s Day, Saudi women celebrate new freedoms

08/03/2020

Hala Hussein Alireza makes a life-changing journey on June 24, 2018 after Saudi Arabia ended a ban on women driving. Opposite: An end to passport restrictions has opened new horizons for women in the Kingdom. (AFP)

  • Until recently, women had to rely on a male guardians for most aspects of their everyday life
  • The present generation is living in a golden age, where gender will no longer be an obstacle

RIYADH: Life for a woman in Saudi Arabia, especially a Saudi woman, was full of frustrations until recently.

Women were treated as second-class citizens and had to rely on a male guardians (mihram) for most aspects of their everyday life. Accomplishing anything independently was almost impossible without a mihram. An adult female was unable to travel without the consent of a man. Saudi women had to adhere to social rules implemented by extreme conservatives and could not apply for jobs or dine out without the permission or company of a male guardian.

Slowly but surely King Salman paved the way for women to live independently, free from these restrictions.  On Aug. 1, 2019, a decree signed by King Salman declared that Saudi women no longer needed permission from a male guardian to travel or obtain a passport.
It was a life-changing moment for Saudi women, no matter how small it seemed to the outside world.

And since that decree less than a year ago, coupled with the 2017 ruling — enforced in 2018 — allowing Saudi women to drive, Saudi women are flourishing and becoming more active in the workforce.
Balqis Fahad, a widow with three children, told Arab News that she wept on the day the royal decree was announced. Fahad’s husband died when she was pregnant with her third child, and her children’s futures were placed in her brother-in-law’s care.
“They were tough times,” she recalls. “He wasn’t unkind, but inevitably their lives were in his hands and we had to live according to his standards, not mine. My children and I were at (his) mercy. My children’s lives were in his hands. I wasn’t able to call the shots, the executive decision lay with him.” Those decisions ranged from choosing the schools her children attended, to whether or not they could travel.

For Dr. Maysa Amer, a physician, the decree did not alter much in her own life, but she recognizes the impact it had on other women. “It didn’t affect me personally, because my father gave me the green light in almost everything,” she told Arab News. “But I’m happy for those women who didn’t have my freedoms to finally get a chance to enjoy them.”
Twenty-nine-year-old Aseel Blkhyour, an assistant consultant at the Ministry of Economy and Planning, shared the sentiments of most Saudi women. “This International Women’s Day, Saudi women celebrate the new freedoms we have been granted. Freedoms which allow us to live. Freedoms we never thought possible. Thank you, King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.”
The current generation of young Saudi women are living in a golden age — one where they can look forward to a future in which hard work and ability will take them far, and their gender will not be an obstacle.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Arab golf star salutes Saudi women’s tournament as a ‘dream come true’

Time: 06 March, 2020

Moroccan trailblazer Maha Haddioui, who joined the Ladies European Tour in 2012, said she never dreamt that professional women’s golf would come to the Kingdom. (Supplied)
  • Trailblazing Moroccan says inaugural pro challenge ‘opens new horizons’ for female sport

JEDDAH: The Arab world’s first female golfer to compete on the Tour has revealed she never dreamt of seeing professional women’s golf come to Saudi Arabia — let alone a tournament she describes as “a huge step forward” in expanding the women’s game globally.

Moroccan Maha Haddioui, who has played on the Ladies European Tour (LET) since 2012, will be competing for a share of the $1 million prize pool in the Kingdom’s inaugural Aramco Saudi Ladies International golf tournament from March 19-22.

The four-day event at Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) on the Kingdom’s Red Sea coast will feature many of the game’s biggest names in what will be Saudi Arabia’s first professional women’s competition.

Haddioui, 31, said that the tournament highlights the opportunities now available to Arabic women, with the Middle East helping to push women’s sport to new heights.

“I never thought I would go to Saudi Arabia to play golf. Now, to be able to represent Arab women’s golf in the Kingdom is amazing and something I never thought would happen.

“I’m excited that Arab countries are taking a step forward in helping women’s golf grow. The Lalla Meryem Cup in Morocco has been one of the largest women’s tournaments for years. Now having Saudi Arabia up there with the biggest in the sport is something I’m hugely proud of as an Arab woman.

“I’m just happy to play in new events no matter where they are. Playing a professional women’s event in Saudi is amazing and proof that things are moving forward. I am so proud to be part of that and to have the LET be part of that.”

Asked about the impact a leading women’s event such as the Tour could have on the Kingdom, Haddioui said that it could help transform the sporting ambitions of the Kingdom’s women.

“As a professional player, I get a lot of questions along the lines of: ‘Is this your job? How can you have this as a job?’ In response, I always offer the comparison with professional football players, and how they travel the world playing their sport. As soon as I explain that it opens people’s minds and they understand that a woman from our culture, from our part of the world, can do a job like this.

“When young girls look at that, they realize they can do the same — and not just with golf, but with any sport. I think it’s important to have someone you can look to who has already done these things, reached those levels. I pride myself in being able to demonstrate that.

“When I was still an amateur and thinking of turning pro, because no one had done it before, everyone all told me ‘No.’ They almost kind of joked about it. Today, young girls in Morocco and places such as Saudi Arabia who are thinking about golf and want to take it seriously don’t see it as a joke anymore — because somebody has done it. That is something I’m proud of and I hope will produce more Arab sportswomen in the future.”

The Aramco Saudi Ladies International will include England’s two-time LET Order of Merit winner Georgia Hall, last weekend’s NSW Open champion Julia Engstrom, 12-time LET tournament winner Lee-Anne Pace of South Africa, and a host of Solheim Cup and international players.

The tournament will also feature a family entertainment zone with food trucks, games and challenges.

This article was first published in Arab News

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TheFace: Princess Tarfa bint Fahad Al-Saud, artist

Time: 06 March, 2020

Princess Tarfa bint Fahad Al-Saud. (AN Photo by Ziad Alarfaj)
  • Life coaching and art are, to me at least, deeply intertwined on so many levels. At some point, I can barely see that fine line that separates them
  • When it rains, I take my canvas out (a task that involves some heavy lifting), and I let the sky express itself with the help of my colors

Like everyone else, I am someone with a story. Sometimes, on nights when I was feeling nostalgic, I would ask my mother to describe how I was as a child. “Obedient,” she would say, “a sweet girl who always listened to what her parents had to say. In her eyes I was calm, I had many friends, I was a healthy child and so were my three brothers and sister.

But I remember a different story. Yes, I was of course a happy child and I was, indeed, healthy — but I was far from obedient and I was rarely quiet. I remember being adventurous; I loved to explore and I always wanted to (and did) join the boys in their adventures and crazy plots and pranks, especially those that involved bike rides with my older brother.

Still, I wasn’t all wild, however. I had an inner life and I lived in my own bubble for a time, where I created a world that worked for me.

By the time I was in sixth grade I had produced my first piece of art, an abstract piece. I’m not sure if I knew what I had created at the time but I knew it had value. The teacher did not like it and I remember very well how disappointed I was with her for not understanding the importance to me of what I had created. Overthinking since day one.

One of the defining moments in my life was after I had my first child. I still cannot explain how significant it was for who I am as a person, for my consciousness, and for my purpose in life. I married young, so I had my first child at the beginning of my journey, when I was only 20 years old. We were going to grow together, learn together, and explore what the world has to offer together.

Sadly, that dream did not entirely come true. After turning one, my Saud was diagnosed with leukemia, while I was pregnant with my second child, my beautiful daughter Nora. After years of battling, my young hero passed at the age of 12.

My two other children, Nora and Yazeed, are my life. Even though I always involve them in the critique of my artworks, I know deep down they are my biggest fans. I love them, I cherish every minute I spend with them and I know that I am beyond grateful to have such smart, bright kids. Watching them grow, and their ambitions grow with them, has been a blessing.

A while ago I was invited to speak at Alfaisal University in Riyadh, where Nora is studying, I gave a talk titled: “The Creative Soul and the Structured World.” When I saw those young, eager eyes staring at me with all the curiosity in the world, listening to every word I said, I realized how much I loved helping young people; their appreciation was overwhelming.

To champion the youth has always been a goal for me; to help them indulge in life and face it with grace, and to adapt when the challenges are too much for a young spirit to handle. This is why I have always believed creativity is so important: it provides young people with the tools they need to navigate through the fog.

My experience with grief taught me a lot about myself, about human nature, about how the world works. Most importantly, it taught me to value what I have, what I had and what I will be given in the future to find balance and serenity in any given chaotic space.

I am deeply spiritual; I believe that everything happens for a reason and that God has a plan for each and every one of us. As part of my healing process, I started exploring and diving more into art. I fell in love with what I found. I decided to study for my diploma in visual arts in my thirties, and from there I began my professional career as an artist. Before that I was an amateur at best, the kind of person who is always going around with a sketchbook in their bag.

In our ancient culture, poets used to claim that creativity came from a magical place called the “Abqar Valley,” where creatives made deals with demons to provide inspiration. This story, despite its ancient symbolism, says a lot about working in a creative field.

Being an artist implies a certain lifestyle, a way of seeing the world. Being an artist means you are constantly exploring, wondering and arguing about how the world is or how it should be. In a nutshell, being an artist means having a free soul: untamed, bold and daring. Being an artist is a full-time job, because you are always working with your creative self. And most people know that; this is why people always roll their eyes when I tell them that in addition to being an artist, I am a life coach.

When I was young, I wanted to study one of two things: fine arts or psychology. I know now that the things we want when we are young always find a way to come back and haunt us, as they did to me until I started a professional career as an artist, studied art therapy, and became a certified life coach.

Life coaching and art are, to me at least, deeply intertwined on so many levels. At some point, I can barely see that fine line that separates them.

There is a saying that goes: “Talent hits a target no one else can hit, genius hits a target no one else can see.” I would not go so far as to say that every artist is a genius, but this is the goal of every artist: to grasp and display something no one else can see; to reveal what is concealed.

The same applies to life coaching. The goal is to reveal to a person that which is concealed from him or her, what they cannot see, and to help them through the journey of self-actualization and realization. That is the essence of life coaching.

After spending a year and a half at the Misk Foundation, working with the Misk Art institute, doing what I love and enjoy, a narrative crystallized, a window opened into the future of my life, and I saw what I wanted: me focusing on my work, my art and my hobbies. So I left my position there and started my practice as a cultural and creative consultant, where I have had the chance to work on many exciting projects, one of which was the movie “Born a King.”

Now, I spend my days in my studio, focusing on my art, developing and experimenting with the creative process, whether it is through painting or other mediums. Documenting scenes of daily life that seem dull to the untrained eye is one of my obsessions: a floating balloon, birds, forgotten roses on the street — I love searching for beauty where no one else cares to see it.

A perfect day for me includes yoga, some family time, art, moments of self-awareness, deep conversations with interesting people, a good meal and a little rain. Why the rain, you ask? Because when it rains, I take my canvas out (a task that involves some heavy lifting), and I let the sky express itself with the help of my colors.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Women’s Football League launched

24/02/20

Community sports for female athletes in the Kingdom took another giant step forward after the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) inaugurated on Monday the Women’s Football League (WFL) at a launch event in Riyadh. (AN Photo/Bashir Saleh)
Community sports for female athletes in the Kingdom took another giant step forward after the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) inaugurated on Monday the Women’s Football League (WFL) at a launch event in Riyadh. (AN Photo/Bashir Saleh)
  • The first season of the WFL, a nationwide initiative, will be held in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam
  • League inaugurated by president of Saudi Sports for All Federation

RIYADH/DUBAI: Community sports for female athletes in the Kingdom took another giant step forward after the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) inaugurated on Monday the Women’s Football League (WFL) at a launch event in Riyadh.

It is the latest initiative led by SFA President Prince Khaled bin Al-Waleed bin Talal to promote grassroots sports activities for budding female and male athletes across Saudi Arabia.

“The development of the WFL came about because we understood there was a need for community-level football for women,” Prince Khaled told Arab News.

“This community league is the first activation of many different community-level sports for women, and it will serve as a great model in terms of league infrastructure and inclusion metrics, contributing to Saudi Vision 2030 and the Quality of Life program.”

Fully funded by the SFA, the WFL is a nationwide community-level league for women aged 17 and above.

Sports for All | الرياضة للجميع@Saudi_SFA

Saudi Sports for All Federation inaugurates the official Women’s Football League at the community level in the Kingdom https://bit.ly/2VkvUeW  @WFLeagueKSA

Saudi Sports for All Federation inaugurates the official Women’s Football League at the community…

Saudi Sports for All Federation inaugurates the official Women’s Football League in the Kingdom

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In its first season, it will take place in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, with more cities potentially joining in due course.

With a prize of SR500,000 ($133,285) at stake, the WFL will consist of preliminary rounds taking place across the three cities to establish regional champions.

The winners progress to a knockout competition, the WFL Champions Cup, to determine the national champion, with the date of the final to be announced later in the season.

Prince Khaled thanked King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the General Sports Authority, for their “boundless support.”

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: Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Sports for All Federation to Arab News: “The development of the WFL came about because we understood there was a need for community level football for women” https://arab.news/g8a2b 

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: Prince Khaled Al-Waleed bin Talal speaking to Arab News about the upcoming Women’s Football League in http://arab.news/g8a2b 

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The WFL “is one more major leap forward for the future of our country, our health, our youth, and our ambitions to see every athlete be recognized and nurtured to their fullest capability,” said Prince Khaled.

Women’s football is one of the world’s fastest-growing sports, and the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup raised its profile to unprecedented levels, inspiring greater participation across the globe.

Inspiration for female footballers at the grassroots level has come from closer to home, Prince Khaled said.

“I think a big inspiration for young Saudi women to get involved in community-level football is the Saudi Greens Team,” he said, referring to the all-female team established by the SFA.

“The Saudi Greens placed second in the Global Goals World Cup last year, and this was a huge moment for young female athletes in the Kingdom.”

Prince Khaled sees the WFL as a pivotal initiative of the SFA and a major driver behind the realization of the Vision 2030 reform plan, which strives for a healthier and more active society.

SFA Managing Director Shaima Saleh Al-Husseini believes that the WFL will significantly improve the visibility of women in sports and prioritize their fitness, health and wellness.

Some of the women at the launch event. (AN Photo/Bashir Saleh)

“Empowering women comes through positive and proactive programs like the WFL that have been conceptualized to continue to have a lasting impact on health, fitness and wellbeing,” she said.

“The SFA, committed to putting women at the forefront of our mission to grow Saudi Arabia’s healthy and active community, continues to engage public and private sector stakeholders to realize this aim together.”

She said this is a qualitative shift in women’s sports in the Kingdom. Spearheaded by Sara Al-Jawini, the SFA’s director of sports development, the federation “studied all aspects of the new league, conducting continuous workshops to ensure the wider WFL infrastructure and lasting impact metrics,” Al-Husseini added.

The SFA has ensured that the football pitches are ready for the start of the WFL in March, with all-female organizational and technical teams in place to manage the various committees working toward delivering the league.

The WFL infrastructure teams will address and complete administrative requirements, refereeing, and technical and medical issues.

Coaching and refereeing courses are planned to further develop the country’s infrastructure for women in sports.

The SFA’s investment in the WFL includes both women’s coaching and women’s refereeing training to fully flesh out the program’s potential and maintenance.

At a later stage, the SFA and WFL will be communicating details on additional leagues and football events, as well as festivals targeting girls aged 16 and below.

These competitions, under the banner “Beyond Football,” will focus on building a strong base for future participation at the community level, beginning with girls aged 5.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi women ‘are in no need of being rescued’

23/02/20

  • Few outside Kingdom understand the scale of female empowerment, top US diplomat tells Arab News

RIYADH: Few people outside Saudi Arabia grasp the scale of the Kingdom’s reform drive, especially in empowering women, a leading US diplomat has told Arab News.

“I was reminded of this … by a prominent Saudi woman, who is happy and proud of the reforms,” said US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.

“She made the excellent point that Saudi women have been strong, capable and educated for a long time.”

The woman told Ortagus that Saudi women wanted their peers in the US to understand them, not feel pity for them. “Saudi women are not in need of being rescued,” Ortagus said,

READ FULL INTERVIEW: Saudi-US bond will last another 75 years, says US State Department spokesperson

Ortagus lived in Saudi Arabia for almost two years after she was appointed deputy US Treasury attache in 2010, and has been revisiting for the first time since then.

“It doesn’t even seem like the same country,” she said. “I didn’t recognize it. I couldn’t believe that it was the same diplomatic quarter that I used to live in 10 years ago — it is totally transformed.”

Washington would always welcome Saudi input on Middle East issues, she said. “We’d love the Kingdom’s help on things like the peace plan and vision that Jared Kushner has laid out. It may not be a perfect plan, but if we’re ever going to have peace in this region, it’s going to come from Saudi Arabia getting in and being involved.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Women front and center in Saudi Arabia’s transformation

23/02/20

A recent international report praised Saudi Arabia for the measures it has taken in the past two years toward empowering women. (AFP)

A recent international report praised Saudi Arabia for the measures it has taken in the past two years toward empowering women.

“Saudi Arabia has made the biggest improvement in the index since 2017, increasing by 38.8 points,” stated the World Bank in its latest report, “Women, Business and the Law 2020,” on laws and regulations affecting women’s economic opportunity in 190 countries. The study analyzed the progress women have achieved under eight indicators: Mobility, workplace, pay, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets, and pension. The indicators are used to build evidence of the relationship between legal gender equality and women’s entrepreneurship and employment. The study tracked how the law affects women at various stages of their lives, from the basics of transportation to the challenges of starting a job and getting a pension.

The fact that this year’s report highlighted Saudi Arabia’s improvements in its laws affecting women is a huge testament to the efforts of the Kingdom in empowering women and ensuring they have equal opportunities.

The report confirmed Saudi Arabia’s positive reforms in six out of the eight indicators. Under the mobility indicator, it pointed to the changes affecting women’s freedom of movement by being able to drive and no longer needing permission from a male guardian to travel abroad or to obtain a passport.

Under the marriage indicator, the report mentioned Saudi Arabia’s amendment of the Civil Status Law to allow women to choose where to live in the same way as men can, by removing a provision that made the husband’s home a married couple’s default residence and allowing women to be head of the household. In addition, a husband can no longer sue his wife for leaving the marital home because the law that required a woman to obey her husband was repealed.

Regarding the workplace indicator, the Kingdom criminalized sexual harassment in public and private sector employment, allowed women greater economic opportunities, and legal amendments now protect women from discrimination in employment, including job advertisements and hiring.

Under parenthood, Saudi Arabia prohibited dismissing a woman during her entire pregnancy and maternity leave.

The country also equaled the retirement age for women and men at 60 years, extending women’s working lives, earnings and contributions, which is related to the pension indicator. Finally, Saudi Arabia also encouraged women’s entrepreneurship by prohibiting gender-based discrimination in accessing financial services.

The report acknowledges that these reforms build on other historic changes in Saudi Arabia, which in 2015 allowed women to vote and run as candidates in municipal elections for the first time and in 2018 gave them the right to drive.

The report gives credit to the Saudi leadership for understanding that women play an important role in moving the country closer toward achieving its Vision 2030

Maha Akeel

The World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law index also provided a list of the remaining legal constraints on women’s participation in the economy. Where Saudi Arabia still needs to make improvements, according to the report, is under pay (laws on equal pay, working night shifts, in dangerous jobs and the same industries for men and women) and assets (equal ownership, inheritance, administrative authority over assets, and valuation of nonmonetary contributions). Some of these indicators might pose a problem for cultural and religious reasons, due to the misunderstanding by non-Muslims of Islamic inheritance laws that are applied in Saudi Arabia.

Overall, the report gives credit to the Saudi leadership for understanding that women play an important role in moving the country closer toward achieving its Vision 2030, which aims to modernize the Saudi economy by diversifying it beyond oil and gas, promote private sector growth, and support entrepreneurship. In order to achieve these goals, Saudi Vision 2030 identified among its goals increasing women’s labor force participation from 22 percent to 30 percent.

Reforming the legal rights of women is also good from an economic perspective. Research clearly shows that reforms and policies that empower women boost economic growth because, when women are able to move more freely, work outside the home and manage assets independently, they are more likely to join the workforce and strengthen the economy. It is important to point out that the reforms do not contradict Islamic laws.

For so long, Saudi Arabia was at the tail end of reports and lists of countries promoting women’s rights, citing such issues as women being prohibited from driving, traveling, working and conducting their affairs without a male guardian’s permission. The Kingdom was constantly criticized and admonished for treating women as second-class citizens.

Not anymore. Today, Saudi women stand front and center in the transformation of the Kingdom under the guidance of its leadership. This was clearly demonstrated when Saudi Arabia took the helm of the G20.

In the G20 events and conferences, Saudi women have been given leadership positions and responsibilities. Most engagement groups and task forces are chaired or co-chaired by women and a woman has been appointed Sherpa. Women’s participation as experts and professionals is high in various fields, including the environment, cybersecurity and finance, not just in the usual and expected fields of business, education and management, where Saudi women have long been an unrecognized driving force.

Under this year’s G20 theme of “Realizing opportunities of the 21st century for all,” Saudi Arabia is focusing on empowering people, especially women and the youth, safeguarding the planet and shaping new frontiers. Under these headlines, Saudi Arabia is giving women the opportunity to shine.

• Maha Akeel is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. Twitter: @MahaAkeel1

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

This article was first published in Arab News

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