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Saudi Arabian woman © Edit Schlaffer/WwB

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09. Oktober 2006Women without Borders in Saudi Arabia

This is Me! Workshop. Self-presentation Skills: Career and Beyond

Saudi Arabia is known as the Silent Kingdom but we can hear the voices of women speaking up. Against all clichés, scientists, professors, entrepreneurs, doctors and journalists, women from all calls of life are active in Saudi Arabia, working in hospitals, businesses, banks and government institutions. Yes, they do it wearing black abbayas and veils, yes, they do not drive themselves, and all of this might change, but what is less media-sensationalist, is that these women not only work for themselves but for the good of their country and region as well. The young generation, especially, are on their toes, ready to jump at opportunities to be present, to be seen and to join in with the new momentum.

This is very timely; the growing importance of a stable middle class is undisputed to help settle the dust in the Middle East. The brave young generation is redefining the roles of women, supported by not only the mothers, dedicated professors, but also their fathers. Gender matters, gender issues are supported by their King Abdullah, he is encouraging the development of a strong young female talent pool, considered a key human resource for future of the country.

In September, Women without Borders had the privilege to be part of this movement. We delivered empowerment workshops to 82 Saudi graduates in cooperation with the private Prince Sultan University and UNDP. The workshops, promoting personal and professional positioning in the career market, covered themes from life planning, CV writing to negotiation skills. Careers guidance is almost non-existent in the Kingdom despite the so called 25% saudi-sation employment programme and creation of more jobs for women.

The young women were eager and readily absorbed this much needed technical and personal advancement training, perhaps making the connection for the first time between personal ambitions and career goals. The workshops were enthusiastically received, by participants, partners and the major local media outlets who particularly liked the pragmatic and open style.

Austria, its neutrality and traditionally good connections with the Middle East (OPEC is based in Vienna) were a good visiting card into the Kingdom. Indeed coming from Austria we all felt that linking up with Saudi Arabia in this innovative process was somehow a step into the right direction and proving that women can work together with high energy, bringing international perspectives into a united, powerful team. Along with myself came Georgina Nitzsche, expert in civil society development from the UK, Jenny Lind Elmaco, specializing in negotiation and debate from the Philippines, Manal Omar, Oxfam’s Programme director for the Middle East, and Ulrich Kropiunigg, psychology professor at the University of Vienna for team shaping.

It was a targeted workshop to help women enter the workforce, but beyond that this was applied female diplomacy. We learned a great deal about their culture, their hopes and their dreams and we think they got more from us than just techniques. We truly believe that such initiatives are strategic. In these critical times, we can only turn the tide with connectivity, with inclusivity and pragmatic action.

We look forward to more! “This is Me!” is a starting point to pull out the personal resources for the bigger mission, to contribute to prosperity, stability and peace in our societies.

Together we change the world!

Edit Schlaffer and the Women without Borders Team


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