Young Saudi woman takes pioneering role in male-dominated engineering industry

Time: 08 August, 2020

Rawan Abukhaled. (Supplied)
  • Rawan Abukhaled, 23, keen to provide digital solutions that help cut costs

JEDDAH: A young Saudi is setting the pace by becoming the only woman working at a manufacturing plant as a digital transformation consultant for GE Digital in the Kingdom.

Rawan Abukhaled, 23, has paved the way for hopeful young Saudi engineers to not be afraid of being the only woman in the room.

“I’m probably one of the first women to join the industry in the Kingdom,” she said. “I want to be the best representation of a female Saudi engineer in this field, so everyone around me thinks, ‘Hey, we need to hire more women.’ I’m constantly trying to get that idea through,” she added.

She is aware of how male-dominated the industry is, not just in Saudi Arabia but around the world. “When I got my first job in the US as a software developer, I was one of the very few females in the room as a software developer and now there are sometimes no other women in the room.”

Abukhaled is passionate about making change, and her job depends on it. She is keen on providing companies with digital solutions that help them to cut costs and raise productivity.

“Today, I’m learning in the field hands-on, rather than in an office. And for soft skills, this is a client-facing job. So, I am in situations that challenge me to grow, especially in my interactions with customers. I’m the only local or regional person on the ground, so the (GE Digital) team in the US relies on me to go to customer sites, and that helps me grow both my technical and soft skills.”

HIGHLIGHT

She is aware of how male-dominated the industry is, not just in Saudi Arabia but around the world. She has paved the way for hopeful young Saudi engineers to not be afraid of being the only woman in the room.

The industrial and systems engineering graduate gained a sense of how much she could do for women when she studied at Virginia Tech, US. She took part in a campaign to become the vice president of the Saudi Student Club and succeeded in becoming the first woman to be elected to the role in 80 years.

Abukhaled said that she was flabbergasted at the number of women approaching her to ask what it was like and the impact it left on female students around her. “I was the vice president of a student club. Even something that small inspired women.”

When she was growing up, Abukhaled wanted to get into medicine. “As I got older, I realized I wasn’t that great in biology and I was more interested in physics and math, so I knew engineering was a better fit for me.”

Her current job with GE Digital allows her to work in the two areas she feels strongly about: Technology and people. “There’s a geek side to me that likes the math and problem-solving, and the other side of me that loves the social network and interacting with people.”

Her father has supported her throughout. He was an industrial engineer, which ended up being a great asset as the two of them shared common interests. “We are a lot alike. He became an influential leader in a multinational organization, and I want to follow in his footsteps. He’s supported me every step of the way, ever since I was a little girl.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Maha Al-Nuhait, general manager at Saudi Telecom Co.

Time: 07 August, 2020

Maha Al-Nuhait

Maha Al-Nuhait is the general manager of the sustainability program at Saudi Telecom Co. (STC). She is a board member of public and private institutions and a member of the Youth Business Council in Riyadh.

Al-Nuhait has over 20 years of working with the public, private and third sectors, in addition to being a full-time mother, working as an entrepreneur, and mentoring at nonprofit bodies.

She is a board member of the Saudi Archery Federation at the General Sports Authority and the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and a business mentor at the Dulani Business Center in addition to her work with STC.

She previously served as a corporate communications adviser at the Ministry of Energy in the field of mining. She co-founded Athar Consultancy, a Saudi firm specializing in building and operating social investment strategies, programs and initiatives. It was one of the first small and medium-sized enterprises in the region to specialize in social investing consultancy and impact measurement.

She used to work at Monshaat, the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority (SMEA). She served as a governor’s adviser, consulting on sustainable development and excellence in community engagement with SMEA programs. She later went on to become the CEO of the Biban SME Forum and Exhibition.

Al-Nuhait holds a bachelor’s degree in English translation from King Saud University and a high diploma in business administration and management from the Institute of Public Administration.

She has a certificate from the Harvard Business School Executive Education program and a certificate from the Ashridge Executive Education Business School at Hult International Business School.

This article was first published in Arab News

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UK Ambassador welcomes appointment of first Saudi woman as cultural attache

Time: 07 August, 2020

Britain’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia on Thursday welcomed the appointment of Dr. Amal bint Jameel Fatani as cultural attaché to the UK. (Supplied)
  • Fatani was appointed as one of the Kingdom’s first female cultural attaches
  • She holds a doctorate in pharmacology and toxicology from the University of Strathclyde

RIYADH: Britain’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia on Thursday welcomed the appointment of Dr. Amal bint Jameel Fatani as cultural attaché to the UK.

Fatani was appointed as one of the Kingdom’s first female cultural attaches by the Saudi Minister of Education Dr.Hamad bin Mohammed Al Al-Sheik earlier this month.

Ambassador Neil Crompton tweeted Thursday: “#Congratulations to Dr Fatani @FataniAmal for her appointment as Cultural Attaché to the #UK. Delighted she is a UK alumni herself. Wishing her the very best in her new role and looking forward to strengthening the people to people links between the UK and Saudi Arabia.”

Fatani holds a doctorate in pharmacology and toxicology from the University of Strathclyde. She obtained her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in pharmacology and toxicology from the College of Pharmacy at King Saud University (KSU), where she is currently an associate professor.

She has previously worked at the Ministry of Higher Education and KSU, and was among the first female pharmacy graduates in the Kingdom.

After receiving her doctorate she was appointed vice chair of the pharmacology and toxicology department. She is the first female dean of the nine scientific and medical colleges, and has worked with the rector, deputies, and deans of male colleges to build a unified strategic plan for gaining accreditation, a higher global ranking, and implementing best international practices in higher education.

Saudi Arabia and the UK have an important and long-standing relationship, strengthened through the strong individual connections that Saudis enjoy with the UK through their attendance at academic institutions. Hundreds of Saudi scholarship students have graduated from top UK educational institutions.

The two countries are key strategic partners in the Kingdom’s Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan, and have reaffirmed their commitment to building and developing trade and investment as well as achieving shared prosperity for their citizens.

This article was first published in Arab News

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WATCH: Saudi singer Tamtam on her new single written during the pandemic

Time: 05 August 2020

DUBAI: Born in Riyadh, Tamtam has gained a following for her socially conscious music that explores the challenges she faces as an unapologetic Arab woman. In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the LA-based musician opens up about her latest single titled “Heartsick” in collaboration with Saudi music producer Saud and her hopes for the music industry post-pandemic.   

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi education minister appoints first women cultural attaches

02/08/20

The appointments are part of a move to promote Saudi Arabia’s educational and cultural presence internationally. (Photo: MOE/Twitter)

RIYADH: Three Saudi women have been appointed as cultural attaches, another first for the Kingdom.

Education Minister Dr. Hamad bin Mohammed Al-Asheikh appointed Dr. Amal bint Jameel Fatani as cultural attache in the UK, Fahda bint Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh as cultural attache in Ireland and Dr. Yusra bint Hussain Al-Jazairi as acting cultural attache in Morocco. The three newly appointed women are all educators.

Other appointments included Dr. Ahmad bin Abdullah Al-Furaih as cultural attache in Egypt, Dr. Issa bin Fahd Al-Rumaih as cultural attache in Jordan and Dr. Saad bin Mohammed Al-Shabana as cultural attache in Kuwait.

The appointments are part of a move to promote the Kingdom’s educational and cultural presence internationally, activate areas of joint cooperation, exchange scientific and research experiences, coordinate scholarships for students wishing to study in the Kingdom, supervise Saudi students studying abroad, facilitate their educational journey and harness their capabilities and take part in its future development.

Appointing Saudi women as cultural attaches is a first in this important sector, which has a pivotal role in building relations, coordinating efforts and promoting cultural partnerships between countries.

This highlights the leadership’s keenness to empower Saudi women, enabling them to serve their country in all sectors and expresses its confidence in the importance of their role throughout the Kingdom’s journey.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Art and passion: Creative secrets of the Kiswa calligrapher

Time: 30 July, 2020

Mokhtar Alim Shokder, a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, fell in love with calligraphy at a young age and developed his skill over the years.  (Supplied/ Reuters)
  • Mokhtar Alim Shokder tells Arab News about his remarkable journey and influences

RIYADH: With a steady and sturdy hand, a calligrapher’s passion and commitment to the art of the written word can be displayed through various mediums, but none more honorable than displaying that passion on the Holy Kaaba’s Kiswa (curtain).

Mokhtar Alim Shokder, a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, fell in love with calligraphy at a young age and developed his skill over the years, which landed him the prestigious and honorable position he is in today.

As a third-grader, he joined a three-month calligraphy course during the summer of 1977 held in Makkah’s Grand Mosque. At the outset, he showed extraordinary skills, which impressed his teachers, and he was made a calligraphy teacher the following year.

With practice and determination, Shokder fell more in love with calligraphy and felt happier when his skills improved.

“I would practice for long hours each day because I loved Arabic calligraphy. My classmates would come and ask for tips on how to improve their handwriting,” he recalled. “I felt overjoyed, with a strong drive to perfect my skills. My colleagues and I would spend long hours training nonstop, with full focus on the tasks at hand to perfect our work.”


Mokhtar Alim Shokder, a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, fell in love with calligraphy at a young age and developed his skill over the years.
(Supplied/ Reuters)

His preferred type of font is Naskh, a sans-serif script that is characterized by the lack of “hooks” on the ends of ascending and descending strokes, considered to be one of the earliest forms of Islamic calligraphy and which is used in the Holy Qur’an. However, he uses the Thuluth font more often, because it allows for curved and oblique lines and slopes, and is used for writing on the Kiswa.

Shokder said that Kiswa writing methods had developed immensely, noting that the calligraphy takes a lot of time and requires patience and precision.

He was influenced by several calligraphers, especially the 19th-century Ottoman calligrapher Sami Efendi, whose works were prominent during his time for its attractive design for vowel signs, decorations, and numbers. Heavily influenced by his work, Shokder was impressed the first time he saw one of Efendi’s works, calling him a role model for all calligraphers.

After teaching calligraphy for several years at the Grand Mosque, he enrolled at Umm Al-Qura University’s Art Education Department in 1989 to hone his skills. He said he benefited most from Muhammad Hassan Abu Al-Khair, a professor at the department and a famous calligrapher known to participate in several competitions and exhibitions.

FASTFACTS

  • As a third-grader, Mokhtar Alim Shokder joined a short course during the summer of 1977 held in Makkah’s Grand Mosque. His preferred type of font is Naskh, a sans-serif script that is characterized by the lack of ‘hooks’ on the ends of ascending and descending strokes.
  • Due to his extraordinary skills, he was made a calligraphy teacher the following year.
  • After teaching calligraphy for several years at the Grand Mosque, he enrolled at Umm Al-Qura University’s Art Education Department in 1989 to hone his skills.
  • His preferred type of font is Naskh, a sans-serif script that is characterized by the lack of ‘hooks’ on the ends of ascending and descending strokes.
  • However, he uses the Thuluth font more often, because it allows for curved and oblique lines and slopes, and is used for writing on the Kiswa.

“The artistic works need a lot of patience and precision. For example, to write five words using calligraphy can take you two to three months and sometimes longer,” said Shokder. “It is the execution of the work that takes a long time. Some people think that such an artwork that has three words can take an hour but this is not true.”

According to Shokder, calligraphers will spend long hours working and have to bear the pressure associated with executing such works, to hone and perfect skills with years of practice and training.

In 2003, he was appointed the sole calligrapher for the Kiswa, a position his father saw in a dream, a moment he cherishes deeply. “It was one of the happiest moments of my life and a great blessing from God, for which I will always be indebted. My father’s dream came true,” he said.

The methods of writing on the Kiswa have developed over the years. The late calligrapher Abdulraheem Ameen Bokhari, Shokder’s predecessor, used chalk to write the script on the silk cloth. In later years, silk-screen printing was introduced which allows the calligrapher to save the script and preserve it on a computer, a method which allowed the Kiswa’s calligrapher to improve the script.


Mokhtar Alim Shokder, a calligrapher at the Kiswa Factory of the Holy Kaaba in Makkah, fell in love with calligraphy at a young age and developed his skill over the years.
(Supplied/ Reuters)

“In older times, ink was used to write the words on papers, then the edges of the letters would be punched with a needle, the papers would be placed on a black fabric, the surface of which would be used for writing,” said Shokder. “Later, a transparent bag made of cloth would be filled with white powder that would be used together with the papers to punch letters on. An embroiderer would use a thread to identify the outside edges of each letter then start his process of embellishing.”

Shokder noted that the process of developing the writing methods was only approved after thorough studies had been conducted on the methods.

Writing on the Kiswa requires strong skills and long hours of training to master the skill. Another challenging part of his job would be the compound and overlapping texts, which require the calligrapher to try several times before reaching the desired outcome, which should be beautiful and with the logical order of words and combine all the elements of the art.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Arab nations cannot afford to ignore the rise of women’s football

Time: 29 July, 2020

The women’s game in the region cannot afford to fall behind much longer. (FILE/AFP)
  • The 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand is unlikely to see any teams from West Asia
  • The desire to accelerate the progress of women’s football can be seen across grass roots level

DUBAI: On Sept. 25, 2005, a football match that few people will remember or even have heard of, took place in Amman, with hosts Jordan comfortably thrashing an overwhelmed Bahrain 9-0.

But the result mattered little. This was a football match with a difference for the beaten team; it was the first time that Bahrain’s national women’s team – established in 2003 – had taken to a football field.

Women’s football had taken its first, small step in the GCC. It was only a matter of time before Gulf nations would follow other more established football neighbors like Jordan and Egypt in developing the women’s game.

But while Bahrain and UAE have followed in those footsteps, things haven’t exactly progressed elsewhere.

Fifteen years on, a revolution is taking place in women’s football. But it’s a revolution that seems to be going under the radar in the majority of the GCC, Arab countries and the Middle East at large.

On June 25, 2020, the announcement that Australia and New Zealand will co-host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup was warmly welcomed across the globe. More than a month on, the news has barely made any waves in the region, especially considering one of the co-hosts, Australia, is a fellow Asian Football Federation (AFC) member state.

The 2023 World Cup will also see the number of participating nations expanded from 24 to 32, in line with the men’s competition, though the extra qualifying opportunities are unlikely to vastly improve the chances of Arab nations.

Across Asia, teams like Japan and China, as well as North Korea and South Korea, have for long been powerhouses in the women’s game, and now Vietnam, Thailand and Uzbekistan are increasingly looking to close the gap on the heavyweights of Europe and the Americas as well. For now, the West Asian region is being left further behind.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that the women’s game has not captured the imagination, or even mere attention, of the regional public. No Arab nation has ever taken part in the FIFA Women’s World Cup since its inception in 1988, and only a few ever make the AFC Asian Cup. Women’s football, for long a traditional taboo, remains a novelty even in these days of cultural progress. That remains the case beyond this region.

At the same time, any criticism for lack of the progress of the women’s game must come with acknowledgement of the socio-political environment, and hardships, that prevail in many Arab and Middle Eastern countries like Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq. In many cases, football and sports in general, for men as much as women, are fraught with political and cultural obstacles which render them of secondary concerns.

But perhaps that is as good a reason as any to ensure the current rise of women’s football does not become the latest wasted opportunity; it’s not just the sporting aspect of women’s game that female athletes would be missing out on.

In recent years, women’s football has become a driving force for equal rights in sports, and beyond, something many regional nations are striving to put right.

In particular, the 2019 World Cup in France was a revelation, a true game-changer for the women’s game at so many levels. There were record attendances and worldwide record television audiences and perhaps for the first time ever, the tournament was enjoyed without the usual, stereotypical caveats.

Even the previous World Cup, in Canada in 2015, had seen major steps taken in the women’s game, with the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) as ever, leading the way.

American captain and star of the last year’s World Cup, Megan Rapinoe, has for one transcended the sport to become a role model for aspiring female athletes and one of football’s most vocal advocates for women’s empowerment.

Ahead of winning the 2023 bid, Australia’s women’s team, the Westfield Matildas, took on Football Federation Australia and Fifa to achieve equal pay with their male counterparts. On Nov. 6, 2019 they won their case and the next World Cup will now stand as a beacon of gender equality and non-discrimination for female footballers.

It would be unfair and unrealistic to expect such giant steps to take place across nations were women’s football remains embryonic, and nor is there is a complete lack of interest by West Asian federations in promoting the game in countries like UAE, Jordan and Bahrain, and with Saudi Arabia indicating huge leaps in the coming years too.

Jordan remains the highest women’s FIFA-ranked Arab nation at 58, and thanks to the work of former FIFA Vice President Prince Ali bin Hussein and the Jordan Football Association, the team has won several regional tournaments and competed at continental level. And in captain Stephanie Al Naber, who had a spell playing at Danish club Fortuna Hjørring 10 years ago, they have a role model that young Jordanian footballers can aspire to emulate.

In 2018, the Women’s Asian Cup was held at Amman International Stadium and King Abdullah II Stadium in the Jordanian capital, two years after the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup had been a success. Jordan, as hosts, were the only Arab representatives in either competition.

In the UAE, a program of training for talented young Emirati girls over the last decade has raised the profile of the women’s national team, with age group selections taking part in invitational tournaments in Asia and Europe.

Having established a women’s team in 2004, a year after Bahrain, the UAE won the West Asia Football Federation (WAFF) Women’s Championship in 2010 and 2011, albeit with a team of mostly nationalised foreign players. Last year in Bahrain, fielding a team of Emirati players, the UAE finished fourth.

The desire to accelerate the progress of women’s football can be seen across grass roots level as well.

The UAE Football Association (UAE FA) has provided significant funding for the national team programs, as well as the seven-team domestic league, with Houriya Al Taheri – coach and technical director with the UAE FA – and Omar Al Duri, formerly a coach with Ghana’s World Cup squad, exerting a positive influence on a team now ranked 97 in the world, 13 behind Bahrain at 84.

In Saudi Arabia, Saja Kamal, a footballer with a massive online following has been leading a campaign to establish a senior national team in the Kingdom, and like Naber and Al Taheri, is a role model in her own right.

Women were only allowed into Saudi football stadiums as recently as 2017, but progress has accelerated in recent times. Earlier this year, an official women’s league was launched in the Kingdom that aims to encourage participation at grassroots and community level.

The 2023 World Cup may come too soon to see an Arab team taking part in Australia and New Zealand. But it should be seen as an unmissable opportunity to learn the lessons that other nations have taken on board, and plan ahead.

Perhaps regional countries could follow suit and co-host international tournaments. That would easily be within the capabilities of the UAE and Saudi Arabia. Staging such competitions would indicate a commitment to the women’s game and to gender equality. Above all, it will bring the game closer to young female football fans.

The women’s game in the region cannot afford to fall behind much longer.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Roaa Qattan, Asian Football Confederation-certified Saudi football coach

26/07/20

Roaa Qattan. (Supplied)

  • Qattan was one of only three female Saudi football coaches certified by the AFC

Roaa Qattan is an Asian Football Confederation-certified Saudi football coach. In February, the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) launched the Women’s Football League (WFL), the first of its kind in the Kingdom, to develop the sport for Saudi women and promote inclusivity.
Qattan was one of only three female Saudi football coaches certified by the AFC and selected to lead Arabic training sessions as part of the international UN Global Goals World Cup 2019 Virtual Clubhouse, which ran online until July 9.
Qattan said the Virtual Clubhouse offers a chance to those who wish to join the Green Team in its Arabic training sessions.
“We were selected and tasked with preparing content for the training sessions in a way that was easy to set up and using simple Arabic. I wouldn’t be able to succeed without the support of the Green Team members and SFA management, which is committed to achieving the General Sports Authority goals under Vision 2030,” she said.
Qattan completed her bachelor’s degree in accounting from King Abdul Aziz University (KAU) in 2005. In 2011, she received an open water diver’s license from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors in Jeddah. She holds an INSEP diploma of sport sciences and has a C-license from the Asian Football Confederation, which she earned in 2018.
She is the founder of the Jeddah Wave football team and has been coaching teams since its establishment in 2018. A year later, she joined Green Team, the official women’s football team representing Saudi Arabia for the Global Goals World Cup, and helped coach it.
She was named best physical education teacher in the Arab region at the Women Sport Conference in Cairo in 2019.

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Language initiative connects Saudi youth with world cultures

25/07/20

The Saudi Heritage Initiative includes videos and infographics on the history of different regions of Saudi Arabia, and the most prominent historic monuments and intellectuals. (Supplied)

JEDDAH: Languages play a crucial role in bridging gaps between different cultures. The internet revolution has helped transform the world into a global village in its true sense. Social media and other modes of communication have removed barriers and physical boundaries helping people connect with one another all over the world.

Such a connection also helps people understand each other and promotes harmony and tolerance. With the same purpose in mind, an initiative has been launched to connect Saudi youth with other cultures by helping them learn new languages.
As part of a series of new initiatives launched by the Saudi Elite Group Organization (SEGO), the Elite Languages Initiative was announced in cooperation with young Saudis who speak various languages, such as English, French, Spanish, and German, by publishing short videos and reports about Saudi achievements through the Elite platforms.

The SEGO is also working on several other initiatives such as the Saudi Heritage Initiative, which includes videos and infographics on the history of different regions of Saudi Arabia, and the most prominent historic monuments and intellectuals.
The Elite Cultural Council is another initiative, which hosts distinguished personalities to talk about issues related to youth empowerment and technology and how to link creative Saudi youth with global technology institutions.

FASTFACT
The Elite Cultural Council hosts distinguished personalities to talk about issues related to youth empowerment and technology and how to link creative Saudi youth with global technology institutions.

Mohammed Al-Hamed, the founder and president of Saudi Elite Group, told Arab News that it is a public relations organization whose first goal is to empower and train Saudi youth through the group’s partnerships with several government agencies. It helps Saudi youth find full and part-time job opportunities in government agencies.
Al-Hamed said that he established SEGO in 2018, and it is one of the Experiences PR Foundation’s initiatives for Saudi youth empowerment.
“SEGO has a larger number of social network connections that can help us access numerous high professionals in the industry, and that has helped them gain the attention of capable speakers,” he said.
Commenting on whether they offer various levels of courses in order to obtain higher language certification, Al-Hamed said that they had signed agreements with different universities and educational institutions around the world to send students to learn English, Chinese, French and Spanish, as well as some academic majors such as engineering, computer science, tourism, heritage, and hospitality.

Saudi Elite Group Organization has a larger number of social network connections that can help us access numerous high professionals in the industry, and that has helped them gain the attention of capable speakers.

Mohammed Al-Hamed, Founder and president of Saudi Elite Group

To ensure continuity, the group is keen on collaborating with government agencies to provide rehabilitation and training opportunities for Saudi youth through the group’s relations with specialized Saudi and American companies.
“Our sustainability plan depends on all the agreements we made with these agencies,” he said.
Al-Batool Al-Fayez, executive director of the group, said that the group’s goals are in line with Saudi Vision 2030 as it is creating a new concept in the field of public relations and empowering young Saudis.
Al-Hamed said: “One of the benefits of learning different languages for youth is to connect with other cultures, the thing which makes them more open-minded and tolerant of diversity. Therefore, at Elite, we stress on facilitating learning languages in different ways. With our international agreements, we can guarantee a wonderful broad scholarship journey for students.”
The Elite Group signed an agreement in May with California State University (CSU), represented by Fresno State University, to cooperate in the fields of cybersecurity, hotel management, heritage, and tourism.
The agreement includes designing and implementing advanced academic programs and special training courses for the group’s initiatives, as well as providing academic consultations and facilitating admission procedures.
The agreement also includes providing training opportunities for Saudi youth in various American companies.

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Saudi Sports for All Federation leads surge in local women’s sports

Time: 24 July, 2020

Football is the most popular sport in the Arab world in general and Saudi Arabia in particular, and the WFL — the nation’s first women’s football league to meet the need for grassroots football — is open to women aged 17 and above. (Supplied)
  • Fitness initiatives ‘will build a stronger, healthier Kingdom’

JEDDAH: Women’s sport in Saudi Arabia is flourishing, with Ministry of Sports estimates showing that female participation has increased by nearly 150 percent in the past five years.

From beginners to fitness fans, women are discovering and benefiting from the perks of an active and healthy lifestyle.

This surge in interest can be attributed to many factors, including better knowledge of healthy lifestyles, increased opportunities to take part in activities, and a growing number of inspirational role models.

Under Vision 2030, and specifically the Quality of Life program, the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA) is working to increase weekly sports participation to 40 percent by 2030, by introducing a more inclusive sports environment, and encouraging girls and women to take up a sport.

SFA President Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal said: “Championing a healthy and active community means that we help to provide all members of Saudi society with access to high-quality opportunities to discover their love of fitness.”

He added: “The SFA is mandated with increasing participation in physical activity, and with women leading this national drive we are well positioned to meet the goals outlined by Vision 2030, closely supported by the Quality of Life program, the Ministry of Sports and the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee.”

In February, the SFA inaugurated the Kingdom’s first Women’s Football League (WFL) to meet the need for community-level football.

“Having a women’s football league is a huge boost for female football. We have been playing football, forming leagues and training since 2007, without any tangible support,” said Rawh Abdullah Alarfaj, the SFA’s special projects manager.

“This is an opportunity for players of every level who are looking for an organized league under an official umbrella, and for coaches and referees who need to be recognized. The league also offers a great structure for clubs who have been established for a long time but have struggled to run effectively due to limited access to equipment, a field or a proper system where they can compete fairly. This league will open doors for any woman who has an interest in football.”

Football is the most popular sport in the Arab world in general and Saudi Arabia in particular, and the WFL — the nation’s first women’s football league to meet the need for grassroots football — is open to women aged 17 and above. (Supplied)

Football is the most popular sport across the Kingdom, and the WFL — the nation’s first community women’s football league to meet the need for grassroots football — is open to women aged 17 and above.

The launch of the WFL followed the success of the Saudi Greens women’s football team, another initiative overseen by the SFA. Formed in 2018, the Saudi Greens competed in the UN Global Goals World Cup 2019 (GGWCP), where they claimed second place. It was the first time a Saudi women’s community sports team had taken part in an international event.

On representing her country overseas, coach Maram Adel Albutairi said: “It was an awesome experience in terms of learning how to connect our passion for sport with goals that affect our society, country and the world. Being part of the first team to compete internationally was an honor and a dream come true.”

Fellow coach Lujain Kashgari described her pride at Saudi Arabia’s achievements, starting at the community sports level. “The SFA makes huge efforts to use sports as a power to encourage society to develop a healthy and fit lifestyle,” she said.

Roaa Qattan, Albutairi and Kashgari are the only three female Saudi football coaches certified by the AFC and have attended specialized training courses in football coaching. They have been selected to lead the Arabic training sessions as part of the international GGWCP Virtual Clubhouse, which ran online until July 9.

Qattan said the Virtual Clubhouse offers an excellent opportunity to join the Green Team in its current Arabic training sessions.

BACKGROUND

Under Vision 2030, and specifically, the Quality of Life program, the Saudi Sports for All Federation is working to increase weekly sports participation to 40 percent by 2030.

“Albutairi, Kashgari and I were selected and tasked with preparing content for the training sessions in a way that was easy to set up and using simple Arabic. I wouldn’t be able to succeed without the support of the Green Team members and the SFA management, which is committed to achieving the General Sports Authority goals under Vision 2030.”

Saudi women are starting to show what they can achieve in sports.

Osamah Saleh, SFA director of marketing and communications, said: “With investment at a local level, positive role models and continued support from the SFA in the form of innovative campaigns and events, the rise of female Saudi sports stars will be unstoppable.

“We know the sport is about much more than excelling. Everyone has their personal goal — from increasing their step count to committing to exercising three times a week — and the SFA is there to help women at the critical community and grassroots level.”

To maintain momentum in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the SFA promoted a “Your Home, Your Gym” campaign, aimed at encouraging people to get active while they stayed at home. Leading sports personalities were recruited as ambassadors, including leading female trainers to engage more women and offer home workout options.

The SFA also held the first Saudi Women’s Fitness Festival (WFF) in June — a three-day virtual event with sessions on nutrition, fitness, virtual workouts and thought leadership discussions.

Yasmine Hassan from Jeddah, one of the new wave of Saudi fitness coaches building online followings, said that an invitation to become an SFA ambassador meant a lot.

“Collaborating with entities such as the SFA means I can continue to grow and improve myself, both personally and professionally. I enjoy challenges and look forward to opportunities where I can
share my experience. Sport is a lifestyle and I want to encourage everyone, especially women, to get active.”

Hatoon Kadi, a WFF panel moderator, blogger, scriptwriter and presenter of YouTube’s “Noon Al-Niswa,” said the festival provided a great opportunity for women and girls to hear directly from female sporting role models.

“Being active and playing sports is beneficial for both mental and physical well-being, but now it can also become a career. The Women’s Fitness Festival provided the opportunity to hear first-hand how women who are already successful in their chosen sport combine fitness with motherhood, how they have overcome certain barriers, and how they got started on their fitness journey.”

Najia Al-Fadl, head trainer at Jeddah’s SheFit gym, also took part in a WFF panel discussion


Football is the most popular sport in the Arab world in general and Saudi Arabia in particular, and the WFL — the nation’s first women’s football league to meet the need for grassroots football — is open to women aged 17 and above. (Supplied)

“There are more clubs for girls these days and more are on the way, which is good progress,” she said. “We have to support women who want to take up a sport, whether it is a hobby, a lifestyle or a career. There have been so many changes in recent years and now there are a lot more opportunities, thanks to the SFA.”

In March, the SFA launched Girls’ National Sports Days (GNSD) in the Kingdom, which ran over a six-week period with 24,000 students from 499 schools taking part.

The program’s lead coach has more 25 years’ experience in delivering and developing the program globally, as well as the pilot project in Saudi Arabia in 2018.

Designed to achieve the Vision 2030 Quality of Life goals of enhancing girls’ sports participation within schools and promoting female inclusion in sport, the program is designed to encourage students to improve their health, fitness and sports participation, while giving participants the chance to experience different sports.

“From the girls’ smiles, laughter and chanting as they cheered on their teammates, it was clear that they all thoroughly enjoyed the Girls’ National Sports Days,” said Kirsten Butler, the project director.

By encouraging sports from a young age for girls, Saudi Arabia will become a healthier, stronger country, she said.

From these SFA-led initiatives, it is clear that women are eager to become more involved in sport. Whether providing opportunities at the community and grassroots level, establishing leagues, or working with female role models, the SFA is laying a solid foundation that encourages women from all walks of life to take up sport.

This article was first published in Arab News

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