The struggle for women’s rights and education is an ongoing battle in my home country of Saudi Arabia. In recent years, no sector of Saudi society has been subjected to more debates and discussions than the women’s sector and their role in the development process. Education for girls was scarce and considered risky for many decades, leaving women all over the kingdom illiterate and inferior to men in every aspect of society. Non-religious education for women was considered a waste of time and even, according to many conservative religious members of the public, dangerous and a threat to society. The history of women’s initiatives to attain an education reaches back to as early as the 1940s. A bright young woman by the name of Fatina Amin Shakir is an inspiration to many Saudi women today. She applied for a Ministry of Higher Education grant to study abroad, but they the ministry refused the grant, stating it was immoral for young single women to study abroad. Fatina didn’t give up her battle and with the help of her father, she appealed to the late King Faisal. Fatina eventually became one of the first women in Saudi to obtain a PhD from Purdue, and soon became a role model to woman across the nation, including myself.
Although incidents at the political and social level have had an immense influence on women’s advancement in Saudi society, they have not completely prevented women from pursuing an education. My father fled to Bahrain to allow me to pursue a superior education and to be able live in a diverse community, where as a young woman I would have the same advantages as any man. The lack of education offered to the women of my country concerns me on many levels as a female citizen. Not many women in Saudi Arabia had the advantage that Fatina and I were given, the support of family to advance as a human being.