Mody al-Khalaf was appointed assistant attaché for cultural and social affairs at the Saudi Embassy in the United States Thursday, making her the first woman to hold such a senior diplomatic position.
“I am extremely happy,” al-Khalaf told Al Arabiya during a phone call from her house in Virginia, describing the appointment of Saudi women in key positions abroad as an important step forward.
“I would be just as happy if any of my other female colleagues were appointed in this position,” she said.
Al-Khalaf is one of 13 Saudi women who work at the Saudi cultural attaché in the U.S.
Mohammed al-Eisa, the Saudi cultural attaché, told al-Hayat daily Saturday that his decision to appoint al-Khalaf as his assistant should motivate her and others to work even harder.
“Dr. al-Khalaf is a competent public servant who deserves to be encouraged,” he said. “I wish her luck.”
Before her promotion to the new position, al-Khalaf served as the director of social and cultural affairs at the Saudi cultural attaché since November 2008. She worked to develop the programs of the attaché and helped increase the number of Saudi students clubs at American universities from 40 to 200 clubs. She is also the editor-in-chief of Al-Mubtaath (“The Scholar”), a monthly magazine launched by the Saudi Cultural Mission in 1978, covering topics of interest to Saudi students in the U.S.
She holds a PhD in Applied Linguistics from Princess Nora University in Riyadh, where she taught as a professor of linguistics.
Al-Khalaf is also an advocate for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, and she has written for English-language daily Arab News on that subject between 2003-2007. Arabian Woman magazine described al-Khalaf as “a shrewd, intelligent advocator of justice – not just for women, but her land as a whole.”
The Saudi government has tried to in recent years to appoint more women in senior positions, and said it would allow them to run and vote in the next municipal elections.
In February 2009, Norah al-Faiz was appointed deputy minister in education to become the first female to attain the highest governmental rank in the country, and in April 2011 Huda al-Ameel was appointed president of the all-women Princess Nora University, making her the first female university president in Saudi Arabia.
Al-Khalaf said the advancements of Saudi women to serve in senior government positions has been slow but steady.
“Evolution of social change must be slow to work and stick, and not cause imbalance,” she said. “It has to be accepted by society.”
As the first Saudi woman in such senior position, al-Khalaf said the media attention surrounding her appointment can be a double-edged sword. The attention is nice, she explained, but it puts more pressure on her to perform and meet expectations.
“I hope I won’t disappoint,” she said. “All the attention will only make me work harder.”