Dubai, 30 May-2014, Jumana Al Tamimi/Gulf News: In a country where women are officially not allowed to play sport in public, drive cars, or issue religious edicts on an official level, the general population in Saudi Arabia appears to be significantly more open to women’s role in society, a study has found.
An increasing number of Saudi men and women said they would like to see Saudi women as ministers, diplomats and senior religious scholars in the kingdom, according to the study.
The study, conducted by the Al Saydah Khadijah Bint Khwailid Centre, an NGO established under the umbrella of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry, surveyed the opinions of 3,004 individuals over the age of 18 in 11 cities across the kingdom.
Asked about their support of women being employed in different jobs, 88 per cent said they supported having female trainers in women sports clubs, 57 per cent said they supported women in preparing food in restaurant kitchens and 44 per cent support women in tourist offices, showed the study, a copy of which was obtained by Gulf News.
Interestingly, 52 per cent said they support women as diplomats, and 54 per cent support women as ministers, 42 per cent said they support women as member of senior religious scholars, and 48 per cent support women in Sharia (Islamic law) courts.
“These results came as nice surprises,” said Basmah Omair, CEO of the centre.
“This was reflected across the regions [of Saudi Arabia],” she told Gulf News. “We couldn’t statistically get something that differentiates regions from each other. Everybody supports the idea and this could be among the reasons that make us see soon a women minister or a diplomat,” Basmah said.
The same applies to other controversial issues related to women including allowing women to drive. Asked about their willingness to drive if permitted by the government, 47 per cent of women said they will drive, and 53 per cent said they would not.
As for men’s willingness to support their female relatives driving if permitted, 44 per cent said they will support, and 54 per cent said they would not.
“The nice thing is that the society is divided into two groups, and that the voice that we thought is against any development related to women doesn’t constitute the majority voice as we [previously] thought is,” she said.
The centre — its board of directors is chaired by the daughter of the Saudi King, Princess Adelah Bint Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz — recommended in its study a series of steps to boost women’s participation in national development.