New book profiles 8 Saudi women who broke barriers

By JC Finley

October 1, 2015

A doctor. A government official. An attorney. An environmentalist. A university dean. An author.

These are the professions of eight women who overcame strict gender barriers in Saudi Arabia to achieve professional success—and change society.

Profiled in the new book, Successful Saudi Arabian Women: Their Gems of Wisdom, these career women open up about their experiences navigating the religious and cultural gender barriers of the ultraconservative Kingdom, where women comprise only 16 percent of the total workforce.

“We want to succeed within our culture, not outside of it,” explains Huda Al-Jeraisy, a businesswoman and leader within the women’s wing of the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Sharing their journeys, making public not only their successes but the challenges they faced along the way, required a great deal of trust, acknowledges Creative Associates International’s Sharon Freeman, Ph.D., a co-author.

“We didn’t know each other but these women were open enough to trust Charito and me with their life stories.” That, Freeman says, is further proof that “all things are possible and that women help to make the impossible possible.”

Charito Kruvant, co-founder and CEO of Creative, applauds Freeman’s dedication to making this book a reality.

“As a woman, I was eager to read each of the eight stories,” notes Kruvant, whose firm specializes in global education development. “I was moved by their stories and dedication.”

Creative is the publisher of Successful Saudi Arabian Women: Their Gems of Wisdom.

Men, Women & Success

Succeeding within the kingdom requires the approval of family patriarchs. The women in this book credit their success, in part, to their fathers and their husbands who approved and encouraged their education, dreams and careers.

“The fact that I’d be blazing new trails and achieving something that no one else in the family had achieved motivated me to work really hard,” recalls Asma Abdulaziz Abdullah Al-Sultan, MD, a pediatric cardiologist. “It’s difficult for us as professional women in Saudi Arabia because in order to work we need more cooperation and assistance inside the home and outside of it as well.”

In Saudi Arabia, the religious and social imperative of gender segregation has historically meant fewer educational resources and limited professional opportunities for women. That is slowly changing.

“When I step back and reflect on what has happened over the past four decades with respect to the education of females and the changes within our society as a whole, I am astounded,” writes former Vice Minister for Girls Education Norah Abdullah Al-Faiz, who was the first female to be appointed to the position of Vice Minister.

Today, more than 56 percent of enrolled university students in Saudi Arabia are women. And yet, Al-Faiz reflects, “women have always been and remain subordinate to men in every field.”

Modern Success within a Traditional System

Successful Saudi Arabian Women offers readers the opportunity to see how these accomplished women have achieved success in their respective fields while respecting the values and expectations of their society and religion.

“I know that some of our traditions and systems in Saudi Arabia are complicated,” acknowledges Banyan Mohmoud Al-Zahran, the kingdom’s first female licensed attorney and the first female owner of a law firm. “But I’m hopeful that by understanding them and working through them, we can nevertheless help those in need.”

That lesson comes at a young age for young Saudi girls, who are encouraged to veil themselves.

“I learned that if you really want to achieve your goals, it’s best to work within the society rather than outside of it,” notes Al-Jeraisy. “Not wearing a veil sends a message – and it’s not a message that helps you win.”

Successful Saudi Arabian Women is available for $19.95, plus shipping and handling. It may be ordered online.

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