“Saudi Women in International Organizations” was the theme of a meeting which gathered together more than 150 professional women in Jeddah to celebrate the launch of CellA+ a nonprofit organization of Saudi professional women under the umbrella of Al-Nahda Women’s Philanthropic Society which is also observing its 50th anniversary.
Al-Nahda is celebrating 50 years of service toward the empowerment of Saudi women through financial and social support. The society has provided training and employment for women to help them become active partners in the development of their society.
CellA+ serves as a link for idea sharing and networking for business and professional women across the country. The team of professional women have come together to provide support for other professionals who wish to develop skills in their fields of work and to provide opportunities and share resources in order to empower CellA+ members.
Dr. Thoraya Obaid, the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund and former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations who was the guest speaker at the event, gave an inspiring presentation in which she shared her long and rich experience at the U.N.. She stressed the importance of education and mentoring programs that can have a strong impact on communities. She said she has always believed it to be her responsibility to mentor future leaders, and said that women in particular have a more important role to play in helping other women, emphasizing the need for increased empowerment of women across the country.
Dr. Obaid became the first Saudi Arabian woman to receive a government scholarship to study at a university in the United States; she is also the first Saudi woman to head a United Nations agency. She was rated among the 50 most powerful Arab women by Forbes magazine in 2004, and profiled as one of the 100 Muslim Builders of World Civilization and Culture in Notable Muslims, by the Deputy Editor for The Encyclopedia of the Islamic World and editor for The Oxford Dictionary of Islam in 2006. She has won many international awards and has been honored by many academic and global organizations.
Dr. Obaid is a great example of a role model who commands respect and can promote the image of the contemporary Saudi woman who can contribute toward the development of her country. She shared her experience in managing a large organization with many employees and explained how an atmosphere of friendship and collaboration can increase productivity and make a difference in any organization. She has set high standards for success, and highlighted the need for professionalism to produce better leaders for the community.
King Abdullah’s reform movement has raised the status of women locally and internationally. Islam has granted women rights that need to be instilled within our society. A more balanced partnership between men and women in accordance with the true Shariah laws can strengthen the position of the contemporary woman in Saudi society and allow her to turn her challenges into achievements.
Progressive and qualified women are more eager to become official members of the Shoura Council and to participate in municipal councils They will finally have a voice in the decision making process. The contemporary professional woman can no longer be isolated. Today she is included in official state delegations, attends international conferences and contributes toward national and global scientific research to serve humanity. However, there are still many challenges and the contemporary woman is still struggling with local attempts to marginalize her role.
Rigid customs and traditions and incorrect interpretations of Islamic law continue to curb her freedom to contribute and excel.
The role of organizations like CellA+ and Al-Nahda society is crucial. They can be instrumental in empowering women through their networking support and professional advice and awareness campaigns.
Mentoring programs can help us produce role models who can project the image of the contemporary Muslim woman who commands respect and qualifies for leadership positions and a role in international organizations. Our society today has a lack of positive role models and there is a dire need for effective initiatives to provide proper mentoring to guide our young professionals in their careers and ensure a more prosperous future for our nation. There should be a nationwide Role Model Program that can provide positive examples for our youth who are in need of hope, self-confidence, inspiration and guidance to succeed. Our children need role models to look up to in order to embrace change and adopt a more modern lifestyle where women are treated with the same respect that is offered to men.
There are many international role model programs that could be applied in our schools. Community Classroom Visit Programs produce caring adults who become role model volunteers, capable of inspiring young women and providing life skills to help them achieve academic excellence, set ambitious goals for their future, and ultimately enable them to become contributing citizens.
Every woman who is in a leadership position today has an obligation to act as a role model and be a source of strength within her community. She should support women’s contributions and actively participate in public life. The contemporary professional woman today can be a powerful force for change if she is given the opportunity to be an effective partner in the development of this nation.
Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer at the Saudi Gazette, where this article was published on Dec. 22, 2012. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org