Gender in the Saudi Arabian Educational Setting


Addressing gender concerns is always a complicated task since addressing it from a perspective other than the one of the gender of a speaker is genuinely difficult, although not entirely impossible. Being a combination of biological characteristics and societal constructs, the phenomenon of gender is difficult to embrace also due to the vast array of factors that affect its perception, particularly social, cultural, and religious factors. In the Saudi Arabian educational setting, the issue of gender needs to be explored in depth because of the challenges that its female residents must face in order to receive a decent education. Because of the patriarchal influences that can be observed in the Saudi Arabian environment, as well as the religious sects that reinforce gender inequality, the problem of underrepresenting the needs of female students remains a concern for the Saudi Arabian academic environment.

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Gender in the Saudi Arabia Education System

The phenomenon of Ikhtilat, or gender mixing, has been in existence in Saudi Arabian academic institutions for quite a while, shaping women’s opportunities for exploring their potential in education. By definition, Ikhtilat implies the idea of gender mixing as the pathway to reinforcing gender equality, in general, and can be used for the promotion of equal rights in the domain of education, in particular (Geel 359). However, the influence that comes in the form of the dominance of fathers and the power that they have over their daughters when it comes to important life choices and particularly the issues associated with women’s education affects women’s choices significantly.

When considering the religious factors that affect the provision of equal education rights to women in Saudi Arabia, one must mention the strong influence of kehilla in the specified sociocultural setting. The notion of kehilla implies that women are not to be seen in public places with the men that are neither their husbands nor their family members (Geel 360). Since the specified concept makes it excruciatingly difficult to build the setting in which Saudi Arabian women can receive higher education, the target demographic cannot obtain the same opportunities as their male counterparts do in the environment of the Saudi Arabian academic institutions (Geel 361). Therefore, one could assume that a combination of religious and sociocultural factors and concepts has a direct effect on Saudi Arabian women’s chances to get a degree.

Saudi Education System and Factors Defining It

Exploring the long-term implications of the identified limitation, one will have to acknowledge the fact that the specified treatment of women’s right to education affects their further career opportunities to a significant degree. Indeed, being deprived of a chance to get the education that they need, women in Saudi Arabia will not be able to fulfill their potential and, instead, will be forced to apply for jobs that are severely underpaid. As a result, Saudi Arabian women will not be capable of becoming independent and embracing the wide variety of choices to which they are entitled.

When considering the factors that lead to Saudi Arabian women having little to no opportunities for education and prevent them from having a voice in contemporary Saudi Arabian society, the Muslim religion is often blamed, which is an erroneous standpoint, to a certain degree. Islam itself does not reinforce any principles that infringe upon women’s rights for education; quite the contrary equal education opportunities are actively encouraged in Quran (Al-Bakr et al. 52). However, because of the persistent influence of radical religious sects, the idea of equality and the role that a woman can play in the Muslim society becomes distorted to a considerable extent (Al-Bakr et al. 53). As a result, women experience significant obstacles when advancing in the realm of education and career (Geel 364). Thus, changes must be made to the current Saudi Arabian academic environment, as well as the realm of the local society and the traditions that it supports.

Education Process: Male and Female Students

The issue of gender roles can be viewed as the key stumbling block on the way to the enhancement of equality in the environment of Saudi Arabian educational institutions. Despite being rather progressive in its approach toward the promotion of gender equality, Saudi Arabian proponents of equality in education have been experiencing significant problems in promoting the specified notion to more conservative members of the society (Alhejji et al. 148). As a result, even though new schools have opened and innovative tools for teaching students have been developed, female learners still encounter negative attitudes, discouraging obstacles, and an array of society-imposed impediments on their way to receiving education.

The academic challenges that men and women face in the realm of its higher educational establishments might seem similar at first glance, yet a second look at the specified setting will show that there is a certain difference between the two. For example, parental consent has been an obligatory requirement for any female student exiting campus up until recently, when the Saudi Arabian government issued a corresponding decree (Alhejji et al. 149). According to the latter, the consent of a parent or a guardian is no longer legally required for a female student to leave the campus area (Alhejji et al. 151). Although the specified change can be viewed as a massive breakthrough in the dynamics in the relationships between men and women in Saudi Arabian academic institutions, it is also representative of the limitations that women face in the realm of the specified environment. Particularly, the fact that female students are not provided with the same amount of freedom in their choices as their male counterparts are can be seen as a major problem.

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Career Pursuit: Implications for Both Genders

The lack of educational opportunities influences women’s chances to have a good job and an opportunity to advance in their careers. Without appropriate skills and the ability to engage in lifelong learning, thus, growing professionally, women in Saudi Arabia are forced to choose low-paid job options (Geel 359). Furthermore, the lack of job opportunities leads to women that have not developed advanced skills applying for the jobs that are traditionally deemed as “female” ones. As a result, the jobs that are defined as “female” ones employ women with low-level abilities and a lack of competencies, which closes the vicious circle and does not allow women to expand and go beyond the limitations that society has set upon them.

Assuming that there have been no attempts at empowering women and promoting inclusion in the modern Saudi Arabian workplace setting would be wrong. For instance, Syed et al. state that several endeavors have been made to encourage Saudi Arabian women to pursue new career opportunities and grow professionally (168). Specifically, the fact that a strategy based on the use of microfinance was introduced into the contemporary workplace environment to ensure equality needs to be listed among the key accomplishments of the Saudi Arabian government (Hein et al. 488). Although the specified changes might seem minor, they provide the platform for the economic change that will lead to a rise in the number of employment options for women.

Nevertheless, it should be noted that the proposed solution based on the phenomenon of microfinancing does not resolve the root cause of the problem. Particularly, the persistent nature of stereotypes that define the attitudes toward women in the workplace in the Saudi Arabian setting has to be studied in depth. Even though the promotion of financial support is bound to create the platform on which improved salary opportunities will be created, women will still be unable to make choices regarding their education and further career. Because of the prevalence of prejudices, Saudi Arabian women fear exploring new grounds due to the threat of being harassed or judged for their choices (Hein et al. 490). Consequently, while being well-meaning, the suggested innovation is unlikely to lead to tangible outcomes unless social support for the specified changes is provided.

Future Opportunities and Challenges

When considering the opportunities that could help women pursue their careers in the context of the Saudi Arabian environment, as well as receive the education that they deserve, one should consider using a vast social campaign aimed at reducing the impact of social prejudices on women’s lives in Saudi Arabia. For instance, allowing more conservative members of the target community to revisit their idea of education and equality could be seen as an important step in the right direction (Al Alhareth et al. 13). Using the support of the Quran and its postulates regarding the equality between men and women, one will be able to ensure a massive drop in the level of impact that prejudices have on women’s career development and education in the Saudi Arabian setting.

It should be acknowledged that the identified alterations are fraught with impressive challenges, the resistance to change from some of the more conservative members of the identified society being the primary one. It would be erroneous to expect that all representatives of the Saudi Arabian community will accept the promote changes immediately. Quite the contrary, resistance is an expected outcome that will inevitably follow the implementation of the proposed change (Al Alhareth et al. 14). Therefore, it is essential to place a strong emphasis on the ideas stated in the Quran as the foundation for encouraging societal growth and acceptance of new ideas. Specifically, it will be necessary to point to the fact that, by securing the rights and freedoms of Saudi Arabian women, particularly their right to education, one will not undermine traditional values promoted by the Quran. Quite the contrary, the fact that the specified ideas comply with the postulates stated in Quran must be represented as the core argument in favor of encouraging female education in Saudi Arabia.

Apart from conservative members of the Saudi Arabian society, a surge of protests is also expected from members of radical Islamist groups and similar sects that view any deviations from the traditional interpretation of the Quran as illegitimate. The specified step will require attracting the attention of as many members of the specified demographic as possible. Therefore, the use of social media and especially social networks must be regarded as a necessity. The identified tool will offer vast opportunities for attracting the attention of a large number of people and convincing them to support the cause. Moreover, by using social networks as the main tool of encouraging change, one will be able to invite people to discuss the issue (Alhareth et al. 13). As a result, the dilemma will gain a vast amount of social attention and will finally be recognized by the members of the Saudi Arabian environment as a legitimate reason for concern.

On the one hand, the active use of the specified tools will allow focusing on the problem more efficiently and, therefore, locate the strategies that will lead to its successful vanquishing. On the other hand, because of possible lack of exposure, parents of women that currently, experience difficulties getting higher education may fail to get familiar with the issue. Therefore, an alternate approach toward shedding light on the issue will be required. Particularly, the use of traditional media, including television and newspapers, may be seen as a solution. Coupled with changes in the legal framework of the state, regular reports from Saudi Arabian academic institutions will shed a lot of light on the problem and encourage people to take action.

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The current situation with gender equality in higher education is rather poor in Saudi Arabia. Even though Islam encourages equal rights for education for both men and women, the influence of traditions coupled with the efforts of sects that have been exerting impressive influence over Saudi Arabian people contributes to a steep drop in the number of women receiving higher education in Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, the identified issue impedes local women from getting career advancement and applying for well-paid jobs. Instead, current societal principles relegate women to having poorly paid jobs and being entirely dependent in their academic and workplace choices on their male family members. Thus, a radical change is required. The specified alteration can be attained by using social media as a tool for building awareness and calling people for action. As a result, equal opportunities may become a possibility for Saudi Arabian women.

Works Cited

Al Alhareth, Yahya, et al. “Review of Women’s Higher Education in Saudi Arabia.” American Journal of Educational Research, vol. 3, no. 1, 2015, pp. 10-15.

Al-Bakr, Fawziah, et al. “Empowered but Not Equal: Challenging the Traditional Gender Roles as Seen by University Students in Saudi Arabia.” FIRE: Forum for International Research in Education, vol. 4, no. 1, 2017, pp. 52-66.

Alhejji, Hussain, et al. “The impact of Formal and Informal Distance on Gender Equality Approaches: The Case of a British MNC in Saudi Arabia.” Thunderbird International Business Review, vol. 60, no. 2, 2018, pp. 147-159.

Geel, Annemarie Van. “Separate or Together? Women-Only Public Spaces and Participation of Saudi Women in the Public Domain in Saudi Arabia.” Contemporary Islam, vol. 10, no. 3, 2016, pp. 357-378.

Hein, Sascha, et al. “Gender Differences and School Influences with Respect to Three Indicators of General Intelligence: Evidence from Saudi Arabia.” Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 107, no. 2, 2015, pp. 486-501.

Syed, Jawad, et al. “Gender Equality in Employment in Saudi Arabia: A Relational Perspective.” Career Development International, vol. 23, no. 2, 2018, pp. 163-177.

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