Women in Saudi municipalities

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Concentration and continuity are some of the most important things that human beings learn in their regular and practical life. Appointing three Saudi women for the first time as heads of municipalities, which are public posts with direct responsibilities towards people’s affairs, is a continuity of the change project.

If Saudi Arabia continues in this developmental path, there will be a great future ahead of it. There is no doubt about that. The difficulty is always in focusing and continuing in the same path despite obstacles. Appointing three Saudi women to public posts like this is another huge leap in the conservative Saudi society.

This comes less than 10 weeks after women were allowed to drive. The legislations, decisions, appointments and awareness campaigns in which clerics and intellectuals participate aim to reform the long legacy that opposes and obstructs the presence of women.

If Saudi Arabia continues in this developmental path, there will be a great future ahead of it. There is no doubt about that. The difficulty is always in focusing and continuing in the same path despite obstacles

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Difficult task

Heading municipalities is a public post that has huge social responsibilities in a field that men dominate. It is a huge challenge for women and a brave move by the government which confirms its commitment to its promises and plans to increase women’s participation in the workforce to one third.

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The truth is a lot of appreciation must go to men, yes to the men who dominate these departments whom today will be the ones who will support these new heads of municipalities to perform their work. Managing municipalities is a different and difficult experience for women even in open-minded societies, which preceded Saudi Arabia by long decades.

The concentration that I am talking about is much more than allowing women to drive, although it’s an important step that will later change the lives of millions of women and improve the incomes of around one million families. There are fields that are changing on the level of women. Some seem related to publicity, like how five Saudi women attained pilot licenses.

Others are quietly happening without any media fuss, for example, 521 Saudi female lawyers trained with 650 Saudi male lawyers in the Justice Ministry, and we suddenly see them work in airports, companies, markets and some governmental departments.

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I think the challenge that is confronting the process of imposing change from above, i.e. from the government, is that it must focus on the project of feminization of work via higher decisions, and not being satisfied with men in those fields making way for that, because many are not convinced or ready yet. The government is the one leading the project as part of its developmental plan Vision 2030. At the same time, it is trying to balance the situation between the hasty and the obstructers while walking on a tightrope.

These changes do not succeed unless they reflect on the entire society. They must not stay limited to social reforms as we must see them fruitfully affect the situation of families, and of course of women. This is the real gamble, that reforms are sustainable and attain everyone’s approval and support and not just one category of the society.

This article is also available in Arabic.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.