Kerry Malster writes
The British Council has been teaching English in Saudi Arabia for over four decades, operating from dedicated male and female teaching centres in three separate locations: Riyadh, Al Khobar and Jeddah. Before coming to Saudi Arabia I worked in corporate training for many years, mainly in the UK but eventually moving extensively across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region and then around the world. I arrived in Saudi Arabia to manage the women’s centre in Riyadh before moving on to lead operations at the Jeddah centre.
In recent years there has definitely been an increase in the opportunities to promote the benefits of education to Saudi women. The government’s Saudisation programme, under which private-sector companies are required to employ a quota of Saudi nationals, along with the limited gender reforms made by the late King Abdullah Abdulaziz, mean Saudi women are gradually getting more opportunities to forge their own career paths. Although women’s rights have been incrementally extended in recent years – they were allowed to vote in municipal elections for the first time last year – their actions are still severely restricted. A woman cannot even open a bank account without her husband’s permission.
The changes in Saudi legislation do offer opportunities, though. Women can now work in corporate settings, such as positions in retail and health care, previously forbidden. The Saudi National Transformation programme aims to increase the female workforce to 30 per cent by 2030. The British Council can certainly play its part in moving forward to achieve such aims. We have recently launched a variety of courses especially for women such as the Leadership for Women programme, in conjunction with Durham University. Another initiative, Springboard, offers a variety of workplace English courses with the aim of getting as many women as possible into a position where they are capable of competing for work, making sure they are equipped with the skills necessary to advance their careers to decision-making positions.
Saudi women are extremely motivated and resilient. They will continue to take any opportunity they get for self-development and make the absolute most of it. It’s been an honour working with these women.
Kerry Malster is a teaching instructor at the British Council’s Teaching Centre in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Pic courtesy: Peter Dowley