Saudi Arabia’s government has appointed a woman to a top job in its Ministry of Health in the latest sign of creeping reform in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom.
According to a report in Arab News, Muneera bint Hamdan Al-Osaimi was one of seven new assistant undersecretaries recruited to the ministry as part of a wider reshuffle this week.
Health ministry spokesman Dr Khalid Al-Mirghalani told the newspaper that this is the first time a female has held such a portfolio and was evidence of his department’s eagerness to encourage women into top public sector jobs.
Saudi Arabia, the most populous nation in the GCC, is one of the few countries in the world where strict gender segregation is still largely enforced.
While Saudi women are permitted to work in some cases, social convention prevents them from driving cars and forbids them from associating with unrelated males and taking part in a large array of other social activities.
However, there are signs of gradual reform sweeping through the kingdom of late.
Last year, the kingdom’s ruler King Abdullah announced that women would be able to vote and stand in municipal and Shura Council elections from 2015.
In recent week, officials in the country have also strongly suggested that Saudi would send female athletes to compete in this year’s Olympic Games in London, which would be a first for the country.
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