Saudi woman runs for Jeddah’s Chamber of Commerce board membership

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Not so many women in Saudi Arabia are commonly known for holding leading positions in the kingdom’s booming business sector. But one young Saudi woman is aiming straight for the top.

Rania Salama has launched a campaign to be elected to the board of Jeddah’s Chamber of Commerce, and currently serves as the chair of the Young Businesswomen Committee at the chamber.

Salama said that by running for the chamber’s board, she is seeking to help match Saudi women with the opportunities that men commonly enjoy.

“We really need to bridge the gap between women and opportunities,” Salama told Al Arabiya News.

She also emphasized that her campaign for the board aims to spread awareness of the chamber’s uses amongst voters.

It is also aimed at “raising awareness and having more people participate in the elections,” she said.

“If the person is active and wants to search for their rights in public sectors, the chamber of commerce should play its role unexceptionally,” she added.

The young businesswoman proved her business credentials by launching in 2000 the Arabiyat Magazine - an online feminine, social and cultural publication.

Salama pledges voters in a campaign video to help advance the use of technology to facilitate business service and consolidate partnership with the public sector to overcome challenges that Saudi businesses are facing.

She said her goal is to also find “a comprehensive service system for business pioneering and achieving sustainability for productive families program.”

There are 63 candidates running for the board of Jeddah’s Chamber of Commerce, which has 12 seats. However, only six members will win seats via the elections, while six will be appointed by authorities.

Anyone who holds a commercial registration in Jeddah is entitled to vote, she added.

Winning the board’s elections may not prove easy for Salama as a woman.

Only one other woman, Lama al-Sulaiman, currently serves on the board. Sulaiman was elected deputy chairwoman of the chamber in December 2009, becoming the first woman to occupy this post in Saudi Arabia’s history.

Salama is not alone in her bid.

Rawda al-Yousef, a woman activist, leads a campaign called “My Guardian Knows Better.”

Yousef argues that it is “not essential for a woman to participate in governmental sectors due to her religious and cultural perspective.”

Commenting on Yousef’s campaign, Salama said: “it is beautiful to see both sides of the story,” adding that a response to such a campaign would be based on actions and not words.

“The society will only be ready for such a step when they become aware” of the importance of the chamber and its uses for business development, Salama noted.

Basmah al-Omair, CEO of Khadija bint Khuwailid Center for Businesswomen, stressed, however, the important role Saudi women can play in business and on their “ability to influence decision making.”

“Since women first took part in the chamber’s 2006 elections, they were able to influence decision making,” Omair said.

“The Saudi woman was able to prove that she is capable to confront economic issues and to propose solutions and is able to make decisions that others can benefit from.”

“We hope that this success will continue and the number of the female board members will increase,” she added.

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