The Face: Fatmah Al-Rashed, a Saudi architect


“Ithra was a wonderful opportunity and a joyful experience that added so much value to my life.”
Early on in life I learned that there is no one way to happiness, no one stereotype for accomplishment or self-satisfaction. This belief has been a drive for me to achieve more. I was born and raised in Alkhobar city; my father was a businessman and my mother was a housewife.

My life is rich with love provided by my family, my siblings, nieces and nephews and I’m enjoying motherhood and my family through nonconventional means.

My parents raised us as equals, they supported us, thought very highly of us and believed that we could excel in anything that we did. Our opinions were highly respected, but there were high expectations to be upheld.

My father once told me after finishing a novel on Marie Curie, “you know you’re no less than she is, you can be the Marie Curie in your own field. You have all it takes.”

I enrolled in the Imam Abdulrahman Al-Faisal University as I’ve always wanted to become a pediatrician. My parents raised my siblings and I with one motto in mind: “It’s not about you, it’s about how you can give back to your community.” My mother was not in favor of my chosen vocation. This is not to say that she went against me; in fact, I was given the freedom to decide my life path and my parents were supportive.

In those days, you had to apply to the university by physically providing all the necessary paperwork. As I stood in line to apply for medical school, I saw another queue. Inquisitive by nature, I went to ask what it was for. The administrators told me it was for the department of architecture and planning. Upon hearing that the course was just 5 years, I remembered my mother’s words, and within a minute, I decided to enroll in the department.

Two steps is all it took, stepping into the queue to the right and that decision changed my life’s path and helped make me who I am today. After graduating, I was hunting for jobs with no luck.

As I am not the type to lay back and do nothing, I volunteered to teach English at a local charity. One day, my father surprised me and said I had a job interview in Aramco.

I was shocked since I never applied and because it’s my father, he simply said that I applied for you because it’s time for you to give back. He told me: “The country invested in you, you are smart and you can take whatever job they give you. Who’s going to build the country but you and your generation?” Doors were opened.

I worked in my field for a while and that led me to the King Abdul Aziz Center for World Culture, also known as Ithra.

Twenty-five years later, I’m a still proud employee at Saudi Aramco and one of the first to bring the concept of Ithra to life. My role in Ithra began as an architect and was extended to be part of the creative team responsible for managing the creative program, its concept, and established the first Fablab at the King Fahad University for Petroleum and Minerals — the first in the Eastern Province. Building the concept of Ithra, or as I prefer to call it “the land of dreams,” was a group effort.

I joined with a dream and it was fate that we, the dreamers, were able to gather and meet at the right time and place, and most importantly we were given the opportunity to build something amazing.

This was a selfless act from our end because we wanted to see it come alive, to ensure that we played our part in giving back to a community that helped us grow to who we are today.

Ithra was a wonderful opportunity and a joyful experience that added so much value to my life. What comes next is going to also be part of my journey of growth, to explore our identity.

My life has been a whirlwind of opportunities. One lesson I learned was to never underestimate an opportunity no matter how small it was. You never know what you’ll get out of it.

This article was first published in Arab News

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‘Wusool’ transport program benefits 60,000 Saudi women


RIYADH: Over 60,000 Saudi female employees have benefited from Wusool, a female transportation program that helps ease their daily commute.

The program aims to find solutions that reduce the burden of transportation costs for Saudi female workers in the private sector by providing them with subsidies from the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF) for high-quality, safe and secure transportation services to and from the workplace, partnering with taxi companies through licensed smart apps.

The program aims to increase the participation of women in the labor market and increase job stability.

The HRDF said it made amendments and updates to Wusool to ensure that the largest number of applicants benefitted from it. This comes as part of the HRDF’s support for women working in the private sector.

The procedures included amendments to the terms of enrollment in the program, including the requirement to be registered under the General Organization for Social Insurance (GOSI), where the employee should be registered for less than 36 months, and her monthly salary should not exceed SR8,000 ($2,132). SPA Riyadh

The amendments also included a fixed monthly financial support provided by HRDF, covering 80 percent of the cost at a maximum of SR800 per month, in addition to the cancelation of the previously planned financial participation of SR200, and extending the support period to 12 months.

Women working in the private sector can register for the Wusool program by visiting

This article was first published in Arab News

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Female Baloot players show off their skills at Saudi championship

Time: 15 February, 2020

More than $500,000 prize money is up for grabs at the tournament. (AN photo)
  • Six rounds were played on day two of the Baloot Championship, 520 teams with two rounds for women

RIYADH, JEDDAH: Female Baloot players have been taking part in the second day of a tournament being held in Riyadh Front, with the inclusion of women’s rounds being seen as a boost for female enthusiasts of the card game.

Six rounds were played on day two of the Baloot Championship, 520 teams with two rounds for women.

The game is believed to have been brought to the Hijazi region from Indian immigrants through trading routes during the time of the Ottoman Empire. Its origins could also have come from France where it is known as Belote and migrated during the Ottoman expansion in the region. The objective is to outsmart and outplay your opponent.

Four players are divided into two teams, with two players on each. The rules are strict and straightforward. One player distributes 32 cards and each player gets five cards each. The two players facing each other work as a team to win as many high-ranking cards as possible. The main goal is to win the rounds in which high-ranking cards are played. The players collect cards by “eating” the cards of the opponent. Baloot uses 32 cards only, cards with numbers from 2 to 6 are excluded from the game.

Jawaher Al-Mansoour, a 24-year-old law student, said she was excited to be taking part.

“I’ve just completed the first round, I can say that the atmosphere is a very professional one, everyone is understanding and there are no tensions between players,” she told Arab News.

She learned the game alongside her friend, Deema Al-Mutairi, six years ago  and plays almost daily. “When we heard of the championship last year, we got excited but we weren’t able to participate because there were no female teams at the time,”Al-Mansour added.

“We registered as soon as we heard that females were allowed in this year’s championship and though we weren’t taken that seriously by our friends and families, we made it to the next round and are looking forward to reaching the end, hopefully the SR2 million ($533,333) prize.”

Arab News


: For the first time, 40 female groups will among 18,000 people participating in the Championship, being held in until Feb. 22 

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It took her two years to learn the game correctly, playing with her brothers and father to hone her skills. Al-Mansour is keen on helping to teach the game to other women who want to learn.

Her friend, Al-Mutairi, is also a law student. She learned baloot from her older sister who is an avid player and then continued learning the tricks of the game with school friends.

“I enjoy playing the game and especially with my group of friends,” she told Arab News. “We’re nine friends altogether and play rounds. This is how I perfected the game and I’m excited to participate in the championship. I’m striving for the SR2 million prize, it’s what we’re here for.”

Both players said that many young women were keen to learn how to play the game, with the duo helping them out.

Baloot has been one of the most popular games in the Gulf for decades, and Saudi Arabia in particular.

This article was first published in Arab News

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GCC reforms are changing women’s lives

Time: 14 February, 2020

There are many examples of how the fundamental role of women in boosting economic growth has been recognized by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

In recent years, the GCC economies implemented ambitious reforms to enhance women’s economic inclusion. They have improved women’s access to education, health care and employment, and have encouraged women to participate in political life. The reforms that took place in Saudi Arabia resulted in 30 women being appointed for the first time to the Saudi Shoura Council in 2013, and 17 women being appointed to municipal seats in 2015.

The World Bank’s annual report on Women, Business and the Law 2020 (WBL) highlights important reforms introduced around the world in the last two years related to women’s economic empowerment.

This year, Saudi Arabia was recognized as the global top reformer, following the enactment of breakthrough reforms supporting women’s participation in the economy. The UAE and Bahrain are among the top 10 global improvers, and across the MENA region Jordan and Tunisia scored highly, too. It is our hope that this strong reform momentum in the GCC is sustained and that we see further reforms across the rest of the MENA region. I would like to highlight some of the historic improvements that were introduced in the GCC.

Saudi Arabia increased its score on the WBL index by 38.8 points in the past two years and moved up 60 positions. Saudi Arabia enacted groundbreaking reforms in six of the eight indicators covered by the index, a few of which have caught global attention. The country allowed for more freedom of movement for women — they no longer need permission from a male guardian to travel abroad or to obtain a passport. The Kingdom also amended the Civil Status Law to allow a woman to choose where to live in the same way as men, and allowed women to be head of the household in the same way as men.

New legal amendments protect women in the workforce from discrimination, including criminalizing sexual harassment in employment, prohibiting employers from dismissing a woman during pregnancy and maternity leave, and equalizing the retirement age for women and men at 60 years, thus extending women’s working lives, earnings and contributions. Saudi Arabia also encouraged women’s entrepreneurship by prohibiting gender-based discrimination in accessing financial services.

Around 6 million Saudi women over the age of 21 are benefiting from these changes. The reforms, which were led by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment, reflect the government’s understanding that women play a major role in achieving Vision 2030’s goal of increasing women’s labor force participation from 22 percent to 30 percent.

The UAE has the second-largest improvement globally on the WBL index of this year and implemented changes in five of the indicators measured. The reform effort has been a continuation of reforms that were led by the Gender Balance Council, the federal agency responsible for implementing initiatives to enhance women’s representation in the country’s private and public sectors. Important reforms made include allowing married women to apply for a passport without the written consent of her husband, prohibiting discrimination based on gender in employment, introducing penalties for sexual harassment in employment, lifting restrictions on women’s work at night and in certain industries, and allowing women to be head of the household in the same way as men.

In Bahrain, the continuing reforms were led by the Supreme Council for Women, which introduced the adoption of provisions on sexual harassment in employment such as criminal penalties for perpetrators. Bahrain also began allowing women to be recognized as heads of their households.

These successful reform programs are making significant improvements to women’s lives and are inspiring the region to advance on this agenda, especially as Dubai gears up to host the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) MENA Regional Summit on February 16-17, 2020 as part of their Global Women’s Forum. We-Fi is a World Bank-housed global platform dedicated to advancing women entrepreneurs in developing economies through a collaborative partnership of 14 governments and other institutions. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have been key partners to We-Fi, pledging $100 million to the initiative. Through commitments such as these, we hope to see the reform momentum sustained in the GCC and women’s economic participation continually increase.

• Issam Abousleiman is the World Bank regional director of the GCC countries, Middle East and North Africa. His regional expertise includes Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East regions.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Princess Lamia bint Majed, goodwill ambassador for the Arab world

Time: 13 February, 2020

Princess Lamia bint Majed

Princess Lamia bint Majed, secretary-general and a member of the board of trustees of Alwaleed Philanthropies, has been appointed as the first regional goodwill ambassador for the Arab world by the UN Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat).

Her appointment came during a press conference held on the sidelines of the 10th session of the World Urban Forum in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Princess Lamia will advocate for sustainable urbanization, helping UN-Habitat to address urban challenges in Arab states and advance sustainable urbanization as a driver of development and peace.

Princess Lamia has also worked as the secretary-general of Alwaleed Philanthropies since March 2016. She also worked as executive manager of media and communications at Alwaleed Philanthropies between 2014 and 2016.

Princess Lamia has a bachelor’s degree in public relations, marketing and advertising from Misr International University in Cairo, Egypt.

In 2003, the princess founded Sada Al-Arab, a publishing company operating from Cairo, Beirut and Dubai.

Princess Lamia also co-founded Media Codes Ltd. in Egypt and the Fortune Media Group in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia.

She was editor in chief of Rotana magazine between 2004 and 2006. She held the same position at Mada magazine between 2002 and 2008.

In 2017, she was awarded the prestigious Arab Women’s Award for her charitable work.

In 2019, Princess Lamia was appointed as a champion of Generation Unlimited, a global partnership that aims to boost the productivity of young people. Her Twitter handle is @lamia1507.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Racism goes beyond words or beliefs



The King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies has an amazing program that should be replicated by other institutions. It is called Gateway and it invites students from some of the best universities in the world to visit Saudi Arabia. It’s a program that, in a distinctive and interesting way, tries to shatter countries’ stereotypes of the Kingdom. Participants, like many people visiting Saudi Arabia for the first time, are amazed at how different the reality is from the perception they have been fed throughout their lives.
I was recently asked an interesting question by one of the students. He wanted to know what caused the world to hate Saudi Arabia so much. Although there are many reasons, the one I elaborated on was racism, which is destructive globally.
Racism takes on many forms and has reprehensible consequences. Starting from biological race and developing into exploitation and the more commonly seen human invention of cultural differences, racism goes beyond words or beliefs. It touches attitudes and behavior, is disdainful and disrespectful, affects the dignity and self-esteem of victims and, as such, harms society in general.
It is a vehicle of recognition and admission of differences between peoples, communities, cultures, faiths, traditions and deeds, provoking disruptiveness, divisiveness and dissention, prompting hatred and misunderstanding based on suspicion and doubt. Racism is not only founded on hatred, it is also built on ignorance and fear, usually of minorities who are seen as threats to national identity or social security. Often, national pride is used as a justification for this loathsome behavior and it is interesting to see that certain words and expressions have become interchangeable either to justify a certain stance or to hide deeper nefarious feelings without being outspoken about it.
We have seen countries which once prided themselves on being multicultural and multifaith fight the very richness of their diverse social fibre in the name of nationalism. The melting pot of globalization is rapidly being replaced by inner-looking individualism which can no longer accept the other, the different or the diverse, and which breeds sentiments of prejudice, discrimination and sectarianism.
Today, abusive, violent or intimidating racist behavior has found a new and more powerful platform — social media, where racial harassment marginalizes or excludes individuals. Cyber-racism commits these blatant offenses — which spread like wildfire — under the blanket of anonymity and in the name of freedom of speech. Traditional media, too, is a perpetrator of racism by voicing unfair or negative opinions on racial minorities, or unknown and misunderstood cultures in articles or programs that are capable of reaching millions of readers or viewers. People use this information as a weapon to attack and judge that of which they know nothing about, as is the case for Saudi Arabia.
Racism is learned. A child is not born racist. Racism is wrong. It challenges social equity and value systems. It needs to be fought, if not eradicated, through awareness and education and by denouncing practices that are demeaning and patronizing. Although laws and policies cannot change mindsets, they can nevertheless restrain social conduct and attitudes.

Hoda Al-Helaissi has been a member of the Shoura Council since 2013. She is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee within the Shoura.

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

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Saudi Arabia on a fast track to gender equality, study suggests


  • A World Bank report places Kingdom first in gender equality in GCC bloc and second in the Arab region
  • The WBL report measures gender inequality in the law and identifies barriers to women’s economic participation

DUBAI: Rapid reform in Saudi Arabia is opening the door for female “role models and leaders of the future” — and the Kingdom’s women are seizing the opportunity, according to major employers.

Saudi women are bringing “passion, energy and enthusiasm” to the workplace in greater numbers than ever, Danielle Atkins, chief marketing and communications officer at Diriyah Gate Development Authority (DGDA) in Riyadh, told Arab News.

Atkins said that she has seen a sharp rise in the number of women working in the Kingdom.

“I look for passion, an entrepreneurial spirit and commitment —  and all of this I see from the Saudi women in my team,” she said.

“This is an incredible time for Saudi women.”



Jump in Saudi Arabia’s score in World Bank’s ‘Women, Business and the Law’ report.

Atkins’ comments follow a World Bank report that highlighted Saudi Arabia’s rapid progress towards gender quality since 2017 by ranking it the top reformer and the top improver among 190 countries.

The bank’s “Women, Business and the Law” (WBL) 2020 report gave the Kingdom an overall score of 70.6 out of 100 — a 38.8 jump since its last ranking  — placing it first among GCC countries and second in the Arab world.

WBL measures gender inequality in the law, identifies barriers to women’s economic participation and encourages reform of discriminatory laws.

The report highlights improvements in Saudi Arabia’s score in six of the eight indicators, notably in women’s mobility, following the removal of restrictions on obtaining a passport and traveling abroad.

Besides mobility (100), the most improvements were recorded in the workplace (100), marriage (60), parenthood (40), entrepreneurship (100) and pension (100).

New legal amendments also equalized women’s right to choose where to live and to leave the marital home, the report says.

Atkins told Arab News that the “remarkable change” in opportunities for women  can be attributed to the implementation of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s blueprint for transformation — the Saudi 2030 Vision

“Today, women are being appointed to senior governmental roles and are leading in fields such as science and medicine, which were traditionally male oriented,” she said.

“They will become role models for the future.”

Reforms including the right to drive offer Saudi women a stake in the Kingdom’s economic future, according to a World Bank report. (AFP)

With regard to the workplace, Saudi Arabia has enacted legislation and criminal penalties for sexual harassment and prohibited gender discrimination.

In the area of marriage, the Kingdom has begun allowing women to be head of the household and removed the legal obligation to obey their husbands. With regards to parenthood, Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, prohibited the dismissal of pregnant workers.

“One of the goals of Vision 2030 is to increase the proportion of women in employment from the current level of 22 percent to 30 percent,” Atkins said.

“The DGDA team is comprised of 83 percent Saudis, of which 34 percent are women. The marketing team has an even higher percentage with 57 percent of women.

“My first three new hires are all Saudi women, and my impression as someone who is new to the Kingdom is that this change is being led by the government and individual CEOs. It would be great to see this cascade into all industries within Saudi Arabia,” she said.

In a boost for entrepreneurship, the Kingdom has made access to credit easier for women by prohibiting gender-based discrimination in financial services, a legal provision that has been proven to increase women’s access to finance and is still not in place in 115 economies.

In the pension section, the Kingdom equalized the age (60) at which men and women can retire with full pension benefits. It also mandated a retirement age of 60 for both women and men.

One of the most encouraging aspects of the changes underway in the Kingdom is the trend for women to study what have traditionally been regarded as exclusively male domains: Science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called STEM disciplines.

For instance, of the 5,200 who graduated from the Princess Nourah Bint Abdulrahman University (PNU) in Riyadh last year, 1,400 came from STEM faculties.

“I predict a huge contribution from women in that sector in the near future,” Einas Al-Eisa, rector of the PNU, told Arab News at the recent annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“One good story that comes from Saudi Arabia is the increased number of women engaging in the technology sectors, for example, versus the drop we see worldwide. Elsewhere women are moving away from these fields, whereas in the Kingdom, the number is going up constantly.”

Cyril Widdershoven, director of VEROCY, a Dutch consultancy advising on investments, energy and infrastructure in the region, said improvements in the position of women in Saudi Arabia are visible in offices, workplaces and on the streets.

“The role of women in the Saudi economy is clear. It is an available workforce that should be accessed,” he said.

“At the same time, diversity in the workforce is increasing overall productivity, profitability and sustainability.

“What needs to be done is to educate and strategize sectors for women.”

Women university students in the Kingdom are entering traditional male domains such as science, engineering and mathematics in growing numbers. (AFP)

According to the World Bank report, economies in the Middle East and North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa make up nine of the top 10 reforming economies.

Some of the Kingdom’s groundbreaking reforms include criminalizing sexual harassment in public and private sector employment in 2018, as well as allowing women greater economic opportunity last year.

Legal amendments now protect women from discrimination in employment, including job advertisements and hiring, and prohibit employers from dismissing a woman during her pregnancy and maternity leave.

“These reforms build on other historic changes in Saudi Arabia, which in 2015 for the first time allowed women to vote and run as candidates in municipal elections and, in 2017, gave women the right to drive,” the report said. “The reforms are spurred by an understanding that women play an important role in moving Saudi Arabia closer to its Vision 2030.

“This ambitious plan to modernize the Saudi Arabian economy by diversifying it beyond oil and gas, promoting private sector growth, and supporting entrepreneurship also includes the goal of increasing women’s labor force participation.”

The report mentioned  remaining legal constraints on women’s participation in the economy, which, if addressed, could increase their economic contribution.

As for what young Saudi women will do after graduation, the Vision 2030 strategy envisages a big increase in the female workforce, rising to as much as 30 percent over the next decade.

Recent statistics show that the Kingdom is well on the way to reaching that target, with 23.5 percent of the private sector workforce being female.

“Just as it should be everywhere else in the world, it is the competency of the graduates that dictates where they go,” Al-Eisa said.

For Saudi Arabia to diversify and advance, Widdershoven said, the Kingdom’s women need to be financially independent, but also able to fill in gaps in the workforce.

“From health care to finance, energy, agriculture and industry, the strength of these mainly young women is remarkable,” he said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi basketball team celebrates first anniversary of sports diplomacy project

Time: 06 February, 2020

Riyadh United and the Diplomats team celebrate their one year anniversary. (AN Photo)
  • Riyadh United has been holding regular games with the capital’s diplomatic community in a bid to promote the message of peace and understanding
  • The project was launched by co-founder of Riyadh United and Shoura Council member, Lina Al-Maeena, together with the Belgium Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dominique Mineur

RIYADH: A Saudi basketball team is celebrating a year of sporting diplomacy aimed at strengthening international relations.

Through a unique initiative, Riyadh United players have been holding regular games with the capital’s diplomatic community in a bid to promote the message of peace and understanding between nations through sport.

The project was launched last year in the city’s Diplomatic Quarter by co-founder of Riyadh United and Shoura Council member, Lina Al-Maeena, together with the Belgium Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dominique Mineur.

“It is an amazing initiative of women united together on a court, communicating in one language and collaborating for a healthier and happier lifestyle, while also activating one of the Vision 2030 goals of social empowerment,” said Al-Maeena.

The Kingdom aims to increase the population’s sports participation from 13 percent to 40 percent by 2030.

Mineur, captain of the Diplomats basketball team said: “We had the idea to join forces (with Al-Maeena) and have a team of diplomats against a team of Saudi ladies. It was a great idea.

“Sport is one the best ways to build bridges between people and nations. After one year of training between Saudi women and female diplomats, we look forward to many more years of friendly matches.”

The teams meet every two weeks, but plans are in the pipeline to set up weekly games.

Dalia Fatani, owner of art, craft and design Studio Lucha, and one of the first members to join the Riyadh United team, said: “The teams were established to build bridges between countries through sport, and also to strengthen our stamina as women. It gets us out, it gets us moving and we feel young again.”

Prof. Selwa Al-Hazzaa, head of the ophthalmology department at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Riyadh, was a guest of honor at the anniversary celebrations.

More women playing basketball, or other sports, would help to lower obesity levels and reduce the risk of developing or exacerbating diabetes, and it also highlighted the importance of exercise for a healthy lifestyle, said Al-Hazzaa. “You guys (the team members) are role models to these young girls.”

Fatani said that Al-Maeena and her husband, Obaid Madani, had first set up Jeddah United female basketball team 16 years ago to encourage more people to play her favorite sport.

“Riyadh United is the sister of Jeddah United and we started in 2011. We really did it because we played basketball in school, but we didn’t have the ability to find a place or a coach, or a team even.

“But eventually it worked out and since then we’ve played almost yearly. It is a magnificent feeling,” added Fatani. “It’s really about building more connections with people through sports.”

Foreign missions have praised the Riyadh initiative, and in a tweet the UK Embassy said: “To celebrate the first anniversary of the Diplomats and the Riyadh United women’s teams, we played basketball to strengthen relationships, develop sports skills and make new friends. Congratulations to all of you.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi businesswomen in Forbes Middle East top five


Samba Financial Group’s Rania Nashar, center, was ranked third on the Power Businesswomen in the Middle East list. (Supplied)

  • Rania Nashar, Sarah Al-Suhaimi and Lubna Olayan find special place in the list of exceptional businesswomen

JEDDAH: Saudis dominate the Top 10 of Forbes annual Power Businesswomen in the Middle East list, with three of the country’s biggest names in the top five.

Samba Financial Group’s Rania Nashar is ranked third on the list, followed by Tadawul’s Sarah Al-Suhaimi and Saudi British Bank’s Lubna Olayan.

On the cusp of International Women’s Day next month, Forbes Middle East has unveiled its annual Power Businesswomen in the Middle East list, packed with 100 exceptional businesswomen at the head of many of the most influential and transformational companies in the region.

In the 2020 list, there are 22 new entries and 23 nationalities represented across 28 sectors. Emiratis are the most prevalent nationality with 23 entries. There are also nine Egyptians, eight Lebanese and eight Omani women.

The Forbes list was constructed via nominations and through in-depth research based on criteria including the size of the businesses that these women head, their accomplishments over the past year, the initiatives that they champion, and their overall work experience.

The majority (79) of the 100 women are self-made, 16 of whom have started their own businesses. And 21 women work in their family businesses, with many of them starting out when it was rare to find women in the workplace. There are 21 women from the banking and financial services sector, including four from stock exchanges and financial regulators.


In the 2020 list, there are 22 new entries and 23 nationalities represented across 28 sectors. Emiratis are the most prevalent nationality with 23 entries. There are also nine Egyptians, eight Lebanese and eight Omani women.

The public sector is also well represented, with 13 women on the list heading government organizations, including Director General of Smart Dubai Aisha Bin Bishr, who is overseeing Dubai’s digital transformation. Sarah Al-Suhaimi chairs Tadawul, the region’s biggest stock exchange, which recently handled the IPO of the world’s most valuable company, Aramco.

Half of the list head large corporations, including Nadia Al-Saeed, who runs Jordan’s fourth biggest lender, Bank al Etihad, and Pakinam Kafafi, CEO of Egyptian energy company, Taqa Arabia, who is the only female leader in the oil and gas sector on the list.

The Middle East’s outstanding female leadership was reflected internationally in 2019 when Forbes’ list of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women featured three women from this region — who now make up the top three. Raja Al Gurg (#84 on the Forbes list) manages her family’s business, which was first founded by her father. Indian national Renuka Jagtiani (#96 on the Forbes list) has built a retail empire in the UAE. And Rania Nashar (#97 on the Forbes list) became the first female CEO of Samba Financial Group in 2017, Saudi Arabia’s fourth-biggest bank by assets.

“These Arab women are not only driving economic growth in the region, but they are also representative of the Middle East’s strong female leadership and influence across all areas of life, from e-commerce to financial services,” said Khuloud Al-Omian, editor in chief of Forbes Middle East.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi female bikers get ready to hit the road


The institute is the first school in Saudi Arabia to offer motorbike training, not only to men but for women who have a passion for motorcycles. (Photos/Supplied)
  • 43 women have enrolled in training courses organized by Ukrainian instructor in Riyadh

RIYADH: Although women drivers have become a common sight on the Kingdom’s streets, women bikers are rarely seen.

Contrary to common belief, riding a motorcycle is not that different to driving a car — regardless of gender — except that motorcycles give a sense of empowerment, freedom and an adrenaline rush. Some people believe that women motorcyclists are better equipped to ride motorbikes than their male counterparts because they drive more cautiously and strictly follow traffic rules.
Elena Bukaryeva, the experienced Ukrainian instructor based at the Riyadh-based Bikers Skill Institute, is the only trainer for women bikers in the Kingdom.
The institute is the first school in Saudi Arabia to offer motorbike training, not only to men but for women who have a passion for motorcycles.
Their specially designed courses for both beginners and advanced riders focus on safety, such as the Basic Motorcycle Riding, Smart Riding, Top Gun, Motogymkhana, Off-Road Trainings and Kids Motorcycle Schools courses, with fees ranging from SR750 ($200) to SR1,500.
“So far, 43 women bikers belonging to different nationalities — almost 20 of them Saudis, the rest Egyptians, Lebanese etc and even Europeans living in the Kingdom — have enrolled in our training courses after the ban on women driving was lifted,” Bukaryeva said.
The courses comply with international standards and consist of theoretical lessons to learn the basics of safety, teaching bikers to anticipate and manage risks, and include introductory information about motorbikes.
Bukaryeva said that the field training consisted of everything from gear shifts to emergency stops, U-turns and cornering.
The school generally trains on small motorcycles so that learners will be able to ride any type of bike. The duration of the course “depends on the time it takes each trainee to learn and master all the skills needed,” Bukaryeva said.
“The challenges and obstacles faced are only educational, based on the trainee’s commitment and understanding of the trainer’s instructions. However, there are no challenges related to harassment or honking of cars or bullying,” Bukaryeva said. “In fact, Saudi society has proved its ability to adapt and accept what’s new and useful. Ladies actually get full support and assistance, especially from male bikers.”
While Saudi women are building their skills at the Bikers Skills Institute, women bikers on the Kingdom’s roads are still a rare sight. “We don’t expect any increase in number, especially because women form only 3 percent of bikers in the world,” Bukaryeva said.
Bukaryeva said that the traffic department office had not yet issued licences for women bikers. “Our motorcycle training courses do not include obtaining the riding licence. Some eager trainees go to neighboring countries such as Bahrain to get their licence,” she said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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