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Yes she can: Saudi women making strides despite adversity

The one-day event was the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia [Twitter]

Date of publication: 15 March, 2017

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A conference held in Saudi capital has highlighted the evolving role of Saudi women and focused on their achievements despite the restrictions in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
"Saudi Women Can."

That was the central message of a conference held in Riyadh on Saturday, which sought to inspire Saudi women to participate in the ultra-conservative kingdom's labour force.

The one-day event set up by the Alwaleed Philanthropies' NGO was the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia.

It was led by high profile guest speakers, including Eqbal Darandari, member of the Shura council, Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi woman to climb Mount Everest and Abeer Al Essa, one of the first Saudi women to work in advertising.

Around 200 women were present at the conference entitled "The evolving role of women in Saudi Arabia", which brought together speakers and Saudi icons from a wide range of fields.

Wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Cherie, was among those who gave a keynote speech.

Secretary General of Alwaleed Philanthropies Lamia bint Majed Al Saud said the conference highlighted how far Saudi women can go.

"Women have achieved a lot in our country and we are very proud of this - achievements the outside community does not know about," she told Reuters.

"Like any other country we have obstacles, we acknowledge that, but we are doing our best to make it better."

The New Arab spoke with Imen al-Khamisi, a faculty member of the Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, about the significance of the event.

For Khamisi, the central message of the conference is "nothing is impossible" for Saudi women.

"If we want a better future, we must learn that our will can bring about that change," she told The New Arab.

The conference, which received considerable attention in the kingdom, "is a good start that must be built upon to allow Saudi women to move away from old ideas," Khamisi said.

"Saudi women are no different to other women in the world, and if anything, they are more powerful because they live in a society that is trying to subject them through force, and despite that Saudi women are able to determine their own future," she added.

While Saudi women face many restrictions in work and travel, the kingdom is swaying towards relaxing rules on women as part of its Vision 2030 campaign.

On Monday, the labour ministry announced it was aiming for a major boost of female employment in a "telework" initiative, creating up to 141,000 jobs that enables women to work remotely.

Under its Vision 2030 reform plan, the kingdom wants to boost the role of small and medium enterprises as well as broaden its industrial and investment base.

In the third quarter of last year the unemployment rate for Saudi women was 34.5 percent, compared with 5.7 percent for Saudi men, according to figures cited by the firm Jadwa Investment.

By 2020 the kingdom wants to boost the proportion of women in the workforce to 28 percent from 23 percent last year.

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