By Arab News
By Maha Akeel
Wherever I travel East or West, I meet Saudi women who have chosen to live far away from home. Some have been there for decades, they were exceptions at those times, deciding to make a career abroad when there were few graduate and post graduate Saudi females and even fewer job opportunities.
Today, there is a plethora of female graduates in diverse fields of study, but the opportunities remain limited. It is no surprise therefore, with doors being shut on their faces here, to see so many decide to pack and leave toward the doors opening up for them outside. There are the Saudi women scientists, the researchers, the academicians, the teachers, the doctors, the media professionals, the businesswomen, the engineers, the lawyers, the artists, and others in almost every other field.
What a loss. A brain is a brain whether it is in the head of a man or a woman. So much money is invested in the education of girls, yet the return on that investment is minimal. Why let the fruits of that investment grow in foreign soil even if it is a neighborly country?
It is not just the limited job opportunities, but also having a real career. Abroad, the Saudi women are appreciated for their knowledge, skill and talent. They are given, in general, equal opportunity to advance in their career, paid a good salary and work in a comfortable work environment despite it being “mixed.”
The same cannot be said about their work here, especially in the private sector where they are discriminated against in salary, bonuses, training, career advancement and almost every aspect of their work. And being segregated from their male colleagues at the work place does not mean they are safe from harassment. Moreover, the segregation puts them at a disadvantage because they are removed from the decision-making places and process, which is of course male-dominated.
Even the education sector, which employs the highest percentage of women, most of the decisions concerning girls’ education and schools are made by men who have never set foot in a girls’ school. Appointing a woman as deputy minister for girls’ education corrected that a bit, but it is not enough.
And let us talk about driving. Yes, it makes a difference, for any woman let alone a workingwoman. Why should a chunk of a woman’s salary go to a driver? Why should a financially independent woman remain at the mercy of the whims of a man to drive her places? For many of the Saudi women working abroad being free to drive their own cars or use public transportation is enough reason.
How about being able to conduct their business without a male manager, which is a requirement here? I know several businesswomen who took their businesses outside because they found it much easier to work there rather than deal with the hassles and harassments in a country that claims to protect and care for its women (I hesitate to say citizens because legally we are not, we are constantly asked to be identified, represented and permitted by our male guardians).
In addition to the tens of thousands of high-school and university graduates searching for jobs suitable to their qualifications, there is a flock of young women who will be returning from their studies abroad with high expectations, new ideas and dreams of making a difference in their society. What will they find? Brick walls and concrete ceilings. I hope we can offer them the opportunities they desire and deserve.