CAIRO: “I think the way to happiness is to be around the people you love, to do the work you love, and to be able to live the way you want,” said Ayesha Al-Hamall, now a media specialist of Saudia, the flag carrier of Saudi Arabia. Changes in the Gulf state have become increasingly visible since 2017, especially with the introduction of the Saudi Vision 2030, as the government has implemented a series of measures aimed at bridging the gender gap in social status, such as ending the ban on female driving and relaxing the male guardianship system, which mandates that every woman must have a male guardian who is authorized to make a range of decisions on her behalf.
Consequently, the past few years witnessed more and more women join the Saudi job market, where the labor force participation rate of women rose from 20 percent at the end of 2018 to 33 percent at the end of 2020. “It gives us a good promising view to the future and the changes that are coming more,” said Hamall, who obtained bachelor’s degree from King Faisal University as an information system graduate.
What is happening in Saudi Arabia mirrors many Middle Eastern countries’ efforts to facilitate women’s access to education, employment and even politics. In early 2020, Lebanon’s newly-formed government saw an unprecedented six female cabinet members out of 20, including Zeina Akar, the first female defense minister and deputy prime minister in the Arab world. Kuwait appointed eight female judges for the first time in the same year.
In 2021, Tunisian geology professor Najla Bouden Romdhane became the first female prime minister in the Arab world, a quantum leap in women’s empowerment in the country and the Middle East. Also in the year, in a historic first, 98 Egyptian female judges were appointed to the country’s State Council.
In the economic arena, an increasing number of Middle Eastern women are as well breaking the occupational stereotypes that women in the region are limited in options. According to the findings by Startup Compass, a data collecting and consulting company, the global average percentage of female internet entrepreneurs is 10 percent, while in the Middle East, the proportion is 35 percent.
Besides, Middle Eastern women are demonstrating their strength in sports. In some war-torn countries, sports have helped them not only relieve pressure but earn self-esteem. Some athletes have managed to win honor for their motherland at international events. In the summer of 2021, in Tokyo, karateka Feryal Abdelaziz became the first female Egyptian to have won a gold medal at the Olympic Games. Yusra Mardini, a 23-year-old female swimmer who was in Tokyo as a member of the Olympic team of refugees, told the world that “refugees will not give up easily and will continue to pursue the dreams despite the harsh journey.”
Also in Tokyo, Syrian girl Hend Zaza became the world’s youngest table tennis player to qualify for the modern Olympics. Although she lost in her first match, the 12-year-old made history at the moment she stood on the Olympic stage. “It’s very tough, but I had to fight for it. This is my message to everyone who has the same situation: Fight for your dream, and try hard regardless of the difficulties you are having,” said Zaza. – Xinhua