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Tue 22 Nov 2011 08:13 PM

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Education is Arab women’s ‘best weapon for change’

Rising numbers of women in the classroom will bolster numbers in the boardroom, says activist

Education is Arab women’s ‘best weapon for change’
Panelists speak at the Arabian Business Womens Forum, held at Dubai

Education is the best method Arab women have to break through the glass ceiling and boost their numbers in the workforce, a leading Saudi advisor on women’s rights said Tuesday.

“Education is a weapon for women and a tool for change,” Dr Mona Al Munajjed, a Saudi sociologist and activist, told the Arabian Business Women’s Forum.

“Women are going into higher education and parents are more open for their daughters getting an education as only with education can you get a job.”

[Click here for pictures of the event]

Women comprise 60 percent of graduates in Saudi Arabia, outpacing their male counterparts, but these numbers have failed to translate from the classroom to the boardroom.

Saudi women have the lowest employment rate in the six-nation GCC, estimated at 12 percent in 2008, Hatem Samman, director of the Booz & Company Ideation Center, said in September in an interview with Bloomberg News.

The employment rate for women was 25 percent in Qatar and 28 percent in the UAE, he said.

The comparatively recent introduction of higher education for women in the Gulf kingdom is partly to blame, said Al Munajjed, warning it would take time for the impact to be felt.

“I believe in change but change should come gradually and this is what is happening, especially in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

King Abdullah, who has promised to improve the status of women, opened the first co-educational university in 2009. He appointed the first female deputy minister, Nora bint Abdullah al-Fayez, the same year and has said he will provide more access to jobs for women.

This push towards education is vital. A report by UNESCO in 2007 found some 20.6 percent of

Saudi women over the age of 15 were illiterate. More than one million Saudi women were themselves unable to enter the labour market due to lack of education or appropriate skills, the report found.

“The king is very liberal and very open [to the issue of education for women],” Al Munajjed said. “Change and modernisation can only come gradually... Reforms should come at home with education. More needs to be done to provide women with equal opportunities.”

Aueillia Casimir 7 years ago

It is imperative that wemen should be educated at every level of society. Women impact families to a great extent. Women also are comminity builders. educate women and a great shift will be realized.

Manuel Gandhi 6 years ago

education for women actually helps societies more than men education, since it brings children education along as well as healthcare and estable living conditions for a woman with choices in life