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Development Studies Masters, Saudi Woman

As a young woman determined to carve out my professional space in Saudi Arabian society, I fully intend to have a successful career in business and finance. I am keenly aware of the many issues and challenges that women face in one of the world’s most patriarchal countries. I am also aware of and sensitive to the fact that I am privileged to have gotten this far in my academic career. I see my modest success as mirroring the struggles that all women face in Saudi Arabia, against the backdrop of a history wherein women have almost always been relegated to the sphere of family duty. The pressure to conform and to live out our lives without complaining or resisting against the discrimination to which we are subject, is immense, buttressed by many centuries of sexist tradition designed and put into place to restrict our freedom.

I want to make use of the hard lessons that I have learned through my own personal experience to begin a journey, pursue my calling, and find my place in society in such a way as to benefit Saudi women in general. I hope to have the profound privilege of giving every ounce and fiber of my being to my studies at Berkeley because everything for me is at stake, my ability to help the women in my country will be determined by the strength of the effort that I make. Thus, I feel extremely confident that I will be able to excel because of my self-understanding: that I am not doing this just for myself or even my family, but for Saudi women as a whole, preparing myself for a lifetime of labor on behalf of the cause of improving the standing of women in the KSA.

Women and girls are faced with restricted options in education, forced to choose only among a limited number of disciplines in which female students are allowed to major. After graduating my degree in Finance, upon my entrance into the Saudi workforce, I was immediately struck by the inequality facing the women around me who are almost never promoted to positions of authority, especially over men. But the problem runs much deeper than the banking institution, since clients often refuse to have a woman manage their portfolio. This negative view of women that is society-wide, cutting across all social classes, presents what appears to be an almost intractable glass ceiling that discourages the professional advancement of our women, even though she may be the most highly qualified candidate available. I learned a great deal from my experience in banking; for starters it was my first time interacting with Saudi men.

An end to the ban on women’s driving is one of the central demands of our women’s movements in Saudi Arabia. Yet, this is just one of many legislative, social, educational, and occupational constraints in the KSA that prevent women from fully participating in the development of our country. Overcoming these constraints will be essential if the Kingdom is to develop and stay competitive in modern society. In recent years, however, there has been a very modest increase in opportunities for women’s development in Saudi Arabia and what progress has been made needs to be built upon continually and not just applauded. My central purpose and goal is to work tirelessly for an easing of restrictions, allowing women more freedom, especially of movement, and greater levels of determination over their own lives, particularly their inalienable right to develop and excel at a profession or calling, make contributions to society in a public way, making full use of their intellectual gifts.

I definitely see my struggles as forming part of a larger narrative represented by the struggles of all Saudi women; and I see my own failure or success as also partly the failure or success of women in my country. Our challenges are unique, as women in a Muslim country pushing to gain parity with men in all areas of social life. I bring all of these issues to the table, together with my sincere aspiration to make a positive contribution to your program. I will be most blessed and fortunate if I am to be accepted to XXXX. That I have gotten this far in my young career is a testament to the possibilities of women in or from Islamic countries.

Upon graduation from XXXX, I plan to work in the non-profit sector with experiential education programs related to development, implementing economic empowerment projects focused on women, entrepreneurial training and workforce development. I look forward to a long lifetime creating, monitoring, and evaluating programs designed to empower women in the KSA and/or other Muslim countries characterized by their discrimination against women. I do not see Islam and women’s liberation as necessarily incompatible; and I look forward to creative guidance on this point in particular at Berkeley, along with my studies in human rights, economic justice, and educational access.

This week, women have been elected to office for the first time in the history of Saudi Arabia, 16 of them, to our municipal councils, our highest level elected representatives. I feel proud and empowered by my Saudi sisters.  We have been waiting for this for a long time and it was great to see women of all ages go and volunteer at the polls and vote. This is a step forward for us and I can’t wait to see what will happen in the future. The beauty of these developments in Saudi Arabia the way in which they are organic. Our liberation is like a plant that must be watered by all of us, each one doing her part; and then more resources and initiatives will come. We will move forward, not backward.

I thank you for your consideration of my application to your extremely competitive program.

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