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دراسة حول تطلعات الشباب العربي ورؤيتهم لتعليمهم وعملهم   وتمت في كل من الأمارات والأردن واليمن والسعودية بتمويل من مؤسسسة ( women without Boarder )) مشروع مع فريق عمل من جامعة فينا ، النمسا 2009

 

Bridging the Gap – But How?

Young voices from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

 

Edit Schlaffer, Ulrich Kropiunigg, Fawziah al Bakr

Vienna / Riyadh, 2009

A two-year study sponsored by the Austrian Fund for Research and Science / FWF

Introduction

 

There is an exciting transition taking place in the Middle East states: an educated, effective and articulate cadre of empowered women are currently emerging as the transformative face of Arab progress. From Chief Executive Officers to professors, entrepreneurs and doctors - Arab women are on the move. Backing these women is not only a human prerogative, but makes sense in economic and security terms.

 

This is the chance for the West, in particular, and the rest of the world to reach out and connect with this extraordinary movement, and enhance it’s development: especially in this moment in history when the Arab world is at a cross-road between modernization and extremism.

 

The “Bridging the Gap” survey included questionnaires of a total of 4.400 male and female students from leading universities in Saudi Arabia as well as graduates, expert interviews and parental perspectives. This extensive outreach in Saudi Arabia is remarkable as the country is still unknown territory for social scientists. This extensive outreach conducted by prominent Saudi and international social scientists is arguably the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia in its scale, depth and expertise.

 

This project targeted the current Saudi talent pool - for it is precisely from these young women and men that social progress can be expected. We connected with the leading universities as well as acclaimed women and media outlets in the country.

 

This research project posed the question, who are the women changing the face of the Arab region? How can they maintain the momentum and help empower the next generation of young women as future political and economic leaders of their societies? From graduate to post graduate and beyond, this project examines the real access to women’s empowerment.

 

The Saudi women are emerging on their national horizon due to a combination of bottom-up and top-down processes.Young Saudi citizens define themselves as well educated, techno savvy, and cosmopolitan consumers - with trade, tourism, and transfer of knowledge shaping international relations.  

Will they create more accountable institutions and gender just societies? Will the young female graduates follow the elite league of empowered trail blazers and become future political and economic leaders for their societies?  What are their dreams, their hopes, and their hurdles?

 

The overall results show an impressive common denominator: the female and male voices in the study are confident and optimistic about gender equity. They are ambitious and look forward to an interesting work life that they can balance with their family life. Family is paramount, religion is treasured and tradition is respected. 

Yet further analysis reveals potential dark clouds. Women have much fewer jobs and even less job-preparedness skills than their male colleagues making their struggle much more difficult. Women’s access to the job market is a thorny issue, but still one of the biggest and most pressing challenges confronting Saudi Arabia’s segregated society. The high unemployment is, however, a serious problem.

The dramatic boom in women’s education will certainly change the face of the Middle East contributing to the advancement of a professional middle class much needed in the region.

The aim of this project was to listen to the educated segment of the young generation in Saudi Arabia in order to identify their hopes, ambitions, perspectives, setbacks to develop strategies for encouragement and policies for inclusion in public life. The involvement of women as entrepreneurs, university professors and in the media is part of the transformation of the Middle Eastern societies.

The key question is: How can Arab women confidently participate and contribute to their societies and operate as a visible force for positive growth? This question is closely connected with their male counterparts: how can they find their place alongside the educated women in their fast changing societies?

 

The Saudi challenge is: how does the young generation approach the current societal transformations? In this traditionally structured society, males dominate public space; the extent of female participation is a relatively new debate, as the current generation is the first in which an intense push for female education has occurred.

 

 

 

The results of the survey in Saudi Arabia show that the women still encounter traditional resistance to change and participation. This is an important red flag for young women and the policy makers in Saudi Arabia.

 

How does the young educated generation in the survey perceive modernization in their region? This is a delicate question, since the concept of modernization is frequently discredited as a Western ideal, as an undesired import that would clash with local values.

 

Identity is the new catchword of Muslim youth around the world.  Individuality and autonomy – reference points of high importance to Western youth – are, in Arab thinking, still secondary to the dominant connection with nation and family. 

The educated young Saudi generation, catalysts for modernization and progress, is striving for reform with care and diligence. 

 

 

 ما نشر حول مشروع :

 

ملاحظة : يوجد في المرفقات ما نشر حول المشروع في الجرائد النمساوية وهذه ترجمته باللغة الانجليزية

 

 

 

 

Edit Schlaffer

Saudi Arabia: Onset of a New Reality?

op-ed for DIE PRESSE, Friday, February 27, 2009

 

King Abdullah’s regency in Saudi Arabia is assuredly no simple expedition. He assumed office in 2005 with an ambitious program for reform, which, however, to the disappointment of the progressive share of the population, especially women, only moved forward at a snail’s pace. Ultra conservative roadblocks often inserted sand into the grinding gears of change. He has now taken the initiative, however, to go down in the kingdom’s history as a reformer. He has dismissed a range of hardliners led by Sheikh Ibrahim Ghaith, the head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. His guardians of public morals took to the streets to keep an eye out for women who were not completely veiled. Paradoxically, it is now a woman who carries the positive message of Saudi Arabia’s preparedness for reform out into the world: Nura Abdullah al-Fayez was named Deputy Minister for Girls’ Education, and is thus the first female member of the cabinet in the history of this strictly gender-segregated kingdom. The international press celebrates her as the icon of the modern, educated Arab woman.  The appointment of Nura al Fayez is the king’s answer to the long-lasting, intensive lobbying campaigns by local women’s groups, who made their discrimination public in an articulate and fearless manner. These women’s efforts were successful in the sense that they were credibly dealt with as an internal Saudi affair, and were not in the least suspected of being subject outside intervention. But what is the situation for Saudi Arabian women other than Nura, the pioneer in a ministerial position?

 

In an unparalleled regional study* conducted by an Austrian-Saudi research team which dealt with the everyday realities, hopes, wishes, and limits of the young, educated generation at leading universities around the country, an impressive panorama unfolds. This research endeavor, a great challenge given that Saudi Arabia is still practically unknown territory for western scientists, offers reason for optimism: the king and his reform team will receive unprecedented support from the young, educated generation in their efforts to modernize. The 4,400 polled female and male students are cosmopolitan, self-assured and open, especially in regard to the change in gender roles. Still, family remains central, religion is highly valued, and tradition is respected.

Over half of all students are female, and of them, an impressive group  (over two-thirds) is determined to conceptualize success and a career as part of their life plan. Against the societal background of rigid role conceptions and allocations, this indicates a small revolution and will demand a balancing act from both men and women, which often drives their Western counterparts out of equilibrium.

 

High unemployment is one of the paramount problems, not only in relation to women’s participation in the workforce, but also for the country’s inner stability. The educated segment of society, which has the expertise and drive to carry out the processes of opening, development, and reform, stands in front of closed doors: Only half of all students expect to successfully enter the workforce after graduation. For women, it is disproportionately harder. The working world is segregated, and thousands of their potential positions are missing. Additionally, even highly motivated and educated women are less prepared for entering the job market than are their male colleagues, making access to the workforce ideologically and pragmatically harder for them.

Young women are currently conquering the public terrain, in order to make a contribution to their country’s development as active, articulate, and critical thinkers. They are not alone; women around the whole region are in motion—in a “top down” and “bottom up” revolution.

 

The magical word “change” creates waves, in Saudi Arabia as well as in Obama’s U.S.A. New faces and new initiatives are triggering a possible turning point in domestic policy, with consequences for the whole region. Muhammed al Zulfa, a member of the Shura Council, the legislative body, spoke of this challenge in the Arab News: “This is the biggest change that this country has experienced in the past 20 years. And the people here now have very high expectations.

 

The Ministry of Labor has already initiated careful steps in the direction of liberalization, under which new access options for women are being negotiated, such as allowing female law graduates to work in law firms. This is a critical step and can be attributed to women’s efforts. These women patiently and analytically exacted the detailed work necessary to elucidate the rights that Islam gives them. As in an archeological expedition, they have cleared away entire boulders of distorted transmission and patriarchal traditions.

The Saudi establishment is smart to turn to women, because the female educational boom will assuredly change the face of the Near East in an enduring manner and will contribute to the establishment of a desperately necessary middle class in the region.

 

*Edit Schlaffer/Ulrich Kropiunigg/Fawziah al Bakr: Bridging the Gap – But How? Young Voices from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, supported by the FWF -Fund for Science and Research - Vienna/Riyadh, 2009

 

Edit Schlaffer is the founder and chairperson of Women without Borders, www.women-without-borders.org and initiated the first female anti-terror platform, SAVE-Sisters Against Violent Extremism.

 

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