Dr. Thuraya Obaid is one such example. She has represented the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the international stage, previously serving as a United States Undersecretary-General, as well as Executive Director of the UN Population Fund. Her appointment to the Saudi Shura Council highlights the important role that she has played for Saudi women as a whole.
Following the announcement of the news, Dr. Thuraya Obaid spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat about the importance of women being appointed to the Shura Council.
She said “this is a step that we wish for all women, and indeed everybody in the homeland wishes this. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques has a viewpoint regarding the presence of women in advanced positions in the country, and women being members of the Shura Council certainly represents a very advanced position. Internationally, the Kingdom can now say that it has a number of women in decision-making advisory roles.”
The newly appointed Shura Council member said that this step is equivalent to “every step taken by women to open new gateways for women, from women’s education to female employment through to the steps relating to women’s civil status. Each of these was a step forward to establish women’s position and participation.”
As for the challenge that the 30 female Shura Council members may face, Dr. Thuraya Obaid told Asharq Al-Awsat “the greatest challenge is for us to be able – as a group of women – to work in a serious manner and produce results because there will be a kind of expectation regarding the successes that we can achieve. So this is a challenge to our responsibility and capability of producing results and carrying out the required work. The second challenge is that some may reject the presence of women at the Shura Council, whilst others may accept this….as for those who do not accept this, this is a huge challenge for women to prove that their presence is an addition to, not lessening of, Saudi society.”
Regarding the third challenge, Dr. Obaid stressed that this was the “greatest” challenge, namely “for women to demonstrate that they are citizens with rights and duties and that they are carrying out their role as citizens that love their country, king and people and are working to serve them.”
As for whether she sees the appointment of female Shura Council members as an opportunity to change some things in Saudi society, Dr. Obaid said “we hope so, for the group of women that have been chosen for membership…have the highest level of experience and their own professional expertise, so we hope to be able to put forward programs and proposals that the executive institutions can take.”
The newly appointed Shura Council member confirmed the advisory role of this body, saying “at the end of the day, this is called the Shura [Advisory] Council, and so it can only offer advice, and it is up to the other governmental apparatus to make and implement decisions. So when the advice is wise and balanced and based on logic, we hope that it is implemented.”
Dr. Thuraya Obaid stressed the importance of Saudi women participating in the Shura Council alongside men, asserting that the presence of women will not have a divisive effect on the Council’s advice. She said “any position taken by the Shura Council will not be by the women alone, this will be the decision of the Shura Council as a whole, so we hope that our brothers – the men – also contribute to the development of a vision for the country’s development in different issues, particularly social issues.”
As for her priorities moving forward, Dr. Obaid tied this to her already impressive career. She told Asharq Al-Awsat “I have always specialized in the social sphere, so there must be commitment to women’s affairs and other social issues, including youth employment. These are all social issues that require special care. Education and health-care are also social issues and things that I care about. These issues may seem sectoral, but in reality they are the core issues of citizenship. A citizen has rights and responsibilities, and one of these rights is employment, earning income and finding a suitable job and being provided with the skills required by the market. For example, a working woman who is supporting a family must be provided with assistance. She added “family issues, divorce and child-care…these are all issues that may seem solely to be social issues; however in reality they are based on citizenship.”
Commenting on how she first heard of King Abdullah’s historic decree, Dr. Obaid told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Mr. Khalid al-Tuwaijiri of the Royal Court telephoned me and informed me of the news, and it is a huge honor for our father – the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques – to think about including me in this group [of female Shura Council members]. He has always supported me; he put my name forward for the post of UN Undersecretary-General, and his support was instrumental in my obtaining this position. The King has always supported Saudi women.”