Saudi Arabia: Saudi Scholarship Students Abroad in the Spotlight

The Saudi woman remains a mystery to many who have not had an opportunity to meet and get to know a Saudi woman.  There are some perceptions that she is locked away in a glass palace and released only at the whim of her mahrem (male guardian).  There are also perceptions that the Saudi woman is pampered but uneducated or at least would never receive the same educational opportunities as a Saudi man.

The following may therefore surprise many.  Thirty percent of the 47,000 Saudi students in the US on King Abdullah scholarships are women!  21 per cent of all students who were recipients of a King Abdullah scholarship at universities in 30 countries were women.  The article by Arab news is worth reading but just overlook that the Saudi diplomats who provided information were inadvertently credited to be with the US embassy.

In addition, it is likely that there will be further scrutiny placed on male scholarship recipientsSaudi Television channel 2 (English language channel) is adding a new show to its roster.  This show will feature Saudi students who have studied abroad on a King Abdullah scholarship.  The students will share their experiences on the upcoming show.  Saudi channel 2 seeks to provide new shows which cater to the rising population of Saudi youth.  Saudi channel 2 is also watched by many expatriates in the Kingdom.

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57 Responses

  1. I met two Saudi women who were attending my university on scholarships. Their husbands came as well. They seemed educated to me.

  2. Many Saudi women are definitely much more knowledgeable and educated than Saudi men. This statement comes from my personal experience with both genders in academic and social fields. Women nowadays have a competitive inclination to challenge, explore, question and dissect multitude of issues to improve their knowledge. And i believe this is merely a counter effect that has grown because of women relatively low status compared to men. Being hindered by cultural reasons from participating, as much as men, is an incentive for many to learn and understand these cultural reasons and if they go in line with the Islamic teachings. Also, it’s a psychological need to prove to one’s self that “I feel more knowledgeable than men, despite being looked down upon”!! Their knowledge may, soon or late, help the society realize how traditions have shackled many from reaching their full potential, thus, playing a role in building a successful society.

  3. Interesting comment Saudi Woman, thank you for sharing.

  4. The Saudi female students may have a considerable amount to reach abroad studying opportunity, and trust me, you can perceive the Saudi woman with any characteristic but never low educated. But, it’s kind of sad when u think from another way, no matter how high they ever achieve, they have never been offered a chance to stand on their own without male guardians, even just drive.

  5. And of course the range of subjects they are allowed to study are extremely limited.
    Although if she has money and support from the man who holds the ownership rights over her I suppose she could study anything she wants when abroad.
    But she would not be allowed to practice her subject in KSA if it is one of the many that are not approved for women.

    Unless she has somebody with power employing her, like the female pilot.

  6. We have quite a few Saudi women at our school. At first all the teachers loved them without exception because they were all so sweet, polite, motivated, and hard workers. Most were also extremely bright, but we did have a few who struggled a great deal to make even a little progress.

    Many are here with their husbands and some of the husbands have no interest in studying English whatsoever, but are their for their wife’s sake. A lot of the women are learning how to drive….their husbands are teaching them.

    We do have one 18 year old Saudi girl who is here completely on her on….lives by herself and relies on a family friend of sorts to take her to school and back. The other Saudi women are horrified by her situation and do everything they can to help her.

    Two months ago, we got a trio of best friends, all under 21, all married. They have been causing unending problems at the school and seem to be the Saudi version of Mean Girls. They are snobbish to the other Saudi women, flirt outrageously with all the men, including the Saudi men…..and they are married to men they profess they love! They also ridicule and bully particular students to the point where those students don’t want to come to school. We’ve had them in the office with the director NUMEROUS times to counsel them over their behavior, but to no avail. The director doesn’t want anything said to their husbands because she’s afraid of what they might do to the girls. (we don’t know what they are like)

    Another type of complication is that the Saudi women rarely tell us when they are pregnant, so we end up looking like unfeeling monsters when they fail a level only due to absences and coming late repeatedly….it’s not until later that we find out they had horrible morning sickness or an at-risk pregnancy….one time we found out only after a woman miscarried.

    Finally there is the issue of husbands and wives studying together. Usually they are at very different levels. Usually the wife is far more advanced than the husband, but sometimes it’s the other way around. And it’s almost always the WIFE who insists on being in the same class as her husband. We accommodate this provided the lower level one signs a paper acknowledging that he/she will not get a certificate of completion until he/she can pass all the levels under his/her own steam. One example: Sukinah refused to be in a class without her husband and started at level one to be with him. However, she could have started at level six and so of course, breezed through the levels while her husband, Moyed, wasn’t unable to pass level one. They were also unique in that he always did his own work and never EVER cheated off her. He went with her all the way to level nine 9, at which time she finally felt comfortable enough to go without him. He then went back to level 2 and started over. They are the school’s lovebirds and have made quite a few people who professed to not believe in true love change their minds! 🙂

    And, yes, we do have some brothers or husbands who don’t want their sisters or wives to speak to any men (some make exceptions for men who are not Saudi so long as it’s a class setting only….no outside projects). However, we have more husbands and brothers who WANT their wives and sisters to talk to EVERYONE….and the women are either too shy or just don’t want to. The women who will quickly become very popular and make extraordinarily fast progress with their speaking skills and their husbands just about burst with pride. The brothers? Some are proud, and some get jealous because their sisters surpass them so quickly!! Sibling rivalry becomes a great motivator. 🙂

  7. Oh my gosh I see so many glaring errors….in my defense, I actually typed all that on an iPad!

  8. @Okie..thanks for insight..was really interesting to see how some saudi girls behave..terrible about the mean girls taunting others how rude. Thanks again

  9. Okie,I enjoyed those stories! 🙂

  10. Beautiful!! Saudi women now walk shoulder to shoulder with men and have proved they are no less than any women around the globe , Even after living in a primitive country and their zeal to gain knowledge thats of the dunya and of the deen makes them the best .

    And now the world will stop saying the women in arab world are suppresed !!!

    I am gonna join Okies school!!!

  11. @Aafke

    “But she would not be allowed to practice her subject in KSA if it is one of the many that are not approved for women.”

    Now I know the scholarship program does not allow for music degrees, or theology degrees. That’s the first I hear of even more subjects limited for women. Do you have a source?

  12. Why don’t you tell me: Let’s talk about jobs for women. Let’s take the most liberal city, Jeddah.
    Let’s take one example civil engineering. What woman university in Saudi Arabia offers a course in civil engineering? How many women civil engineers in Saudi are allowed to supervise construction jobs? How many Saudi women hold that job?
    If the answer is zero then women cannot work in civil engineering.

  13. The change is gradual , saudi compared to 5 years back and now is much changed i guess..

    Dont expect pubs and discos overnight .

    Saudi women will not be good on construction sites ..well not only saudi women but there are no women in construction sites women are in administrative sides though..I guess women dont preferrr to be civil engineers .. if they have an opportunity to be a computers of electronics engineers

  14. @Aafke

    This post was in regards to Saudi Arabian scholarships abroad. The majors that are offered to women, are the same that are offered to men.

    In regards to your example of jobs. I agree with you completely, even though there are universities that facilitate degrees in different fields such as medical, law, computer, etc for women. I’m sure it’s harder for a woman to land a job, if a man applies for the same one. Sexism and inequality are definitely at play here, but there are other factors that contribute to the problem, such as unemployment. Inequality in the work force based on gender is a hard problem, one that the United States used to struggle with, and in some cases, still does.

  15. @Aafke

    Also, you might find this interesting since you’ve mentioned civil engineering.

    “Course options in higher education are to some extent keyed to the job market. Since women are not expected to be employed in mechanical or civil engineering, for instance, these programs were not available to women in public education in the past. However, these courses, as well as interior design and law, have recently opened for women, prompting expectations that more women will be able to obtain jobs in those fields in the future. Furthermore, study abroad offers a wider range of educational options for women.[64] Women are entitled to apply for government scholarships that will pay tuition, living stipend, medical insurance, and school fees for any accompanying children, as well as financial accommodations for a spouse.[65] To qualify for a scholarship to study abroad, a woman should be accompanied by her legal guardian the whole time she is abroad, but in practice this requirement is not enforced.”

  16. I think it will interesting to see what happens in 10 years on the society as more and more women become educated. The more women become educated the more society will change. My understanding is that women have a large amount of the money in the kingdom and they are seeking out higher education over the men. To me that is a recipe for disaster for men’s power sooner or later.

  17. “. And i believe this is merely a counter effect that has grown because of women relatively low status compared to men. Being hindered by cultural reasons from participating, as much as men, is an incentive for many to learn and understand these cultural reasons and if they go in line with the Islamic teachings. Also, it’s a psychological need to prove to one’s self that “I feel more knowledgeable than men, despite being looked down upon”!! Their knowledge may, soon or late, help the society realize how traditions have shackled many from reaching their full potential, thus, playing a role in building a successful society”

    Thanks for your comments saudi woman.

    I am certain Saudi women are just like other women : some brilliant, hardworking, others are not.

    I hope you are not offended. After I came from parents whose culture used to be patriarchical over a century ago in China. For certain, one cannot typify Chinese women in 1 stroke. (Though certain non-Asian men like to think we’re all more submissive, hardworking, etc.)

    One hopes there will be a time in the near future, that the identity of Saudi women is not 1 broad stroke sameness of character nor personality. When that happens, it will be a good thing.

    As for the whole thread on civil engineering jobs and educated Saudi women, I would agree that part of the measure of a society in terms of gender equality, is a woman should be free to apply, compete and choose any accredited university in her home country to gain university entrance. Then graduate and apply anywhere without barriers and also, internationally.

    Sure sexism exists here and there in North America, but get real, there has been real progress in the last 20 years for women obtaining full-time jobs and working fully as qualified engineer.

    I know, because I’ve worked for several employers who have hired women engineers (I’m not an engineer) and some were promoted into management roles. So don’t use Saudi Arabia as same as North America. I suspect Saudi Arabia is still tough for a Saudi female engineer to be fully employed doing engineering work, not lesser stuff.

  18. Oh sorry. I forgot to say as a proud aunt, my niece is a geological engineer. She graduated from a Canadian university and is working full-time for past few years. She does deal alot with male dominant industry: mining and geological consulting.

  19. JC, Many of your comments rely on technicalities. I said that with funding and her owner allowing it, a Saudi women can go abroad and study anything she likes there. But it is not of much use to her in Saudi.

    At the end of the day, for the average women in Saudi, if they cannot get a job with the degree they made then the field is not open to her. It does not matter if they have a scholarship or not. Also (and you should know this if you are a Saudi as you claim) direct scholarships are related to jobs from the sponsoring government agency.

    Sponsors do not expect women to work in many fields, so in reality fields like Engineering are not available to women on direct scholarships. besides a civil engineer will ahve to be out in the field working with men. And you should know all the problems that entails in KSA.

    The point is, JC, you are constantly defending the system (whether religion or politics). It is going beyond trying to correct misperceptions of people about Saudi.
    You are going trying to water down the effect of the government policies which discriminates in the worst possible way against women.

    It takes more than your saying so for us to accept the progressive image you are trying to paint for yourself here. You haven’t supported any progressive stand ever on this forum. It takes a true stand on the issues for you to really be a progressive.

  20. @Jean

    “I know, because I’ve worked for several employers who have hired women engineers (I’m not an engineer) and some were promoted into management roles. So don’t use Saudi Arabia as same as North America. I suspect Saudi Arabia is still tough for a Saudi female engineer to be fully employed doing engineering work, not lesser stuff.”

    I was not implying the struggles for women seeking employment in Saudi Arabia are comparable to modern America, the equality that one finds in the American workforce here is due to achievements of women during 60’s fighting for their civil rights, do I see that same passion happening in Saudi Arabia? Nope, and quite frankly my outlook is very cynical, because of the socio-religious dynamics at play in Saudi Arabia. My comparison was to show that sexism is certainly a hard issue to tackle, even more so in a region that views the patriarchal order as the “right” way of life due to the strong influence of a religion that is heavily biased in the favor of men.

  21. @Aafke

    I am not relying on technicalities. I have stated the obvious, women have obvious struggles in job employment. They are free to choose their own majors while they’re abroad on scholarship, they do not have individual sponsors because the government acts as the sponsoring body. The availability for them to work based on their major can be difficult but it is possible. Going on your example of civil engineering, women can and do work in Aramco in those fields, is it a viable for all Saudi women? No.

    I am not bringing up these points, or asking for sources so I can offer people a rosy image of Saudi Arabia, but proper insight into it. To criticize a country, it’s always best to have factual information at hand, which is a service I provide on here free of charge. Which is why I’m keen on reliable sources.

  22. JC, To criticize a country, here are some real facts provided free of charge:

    1- Women cannot travel without the approval of their mahram (owner)
    2- Women cannot get most jobs
    3- Women cannot get a scholarship without approval of a Mahram
    4- Women cannot get a scholarship without approval from a Mahram

    Now tell us, as a progressive, how do you feel about the way your government and society treat women.
    Are you a progressive who takes a stand against them? Or are you just always trying to explain why things are the way they are? Because the latter is not a progressive.

    What are you doing to change things and support the women of Saudi who are trying to push the envelope?

  23. 4 should have been:
    4- Women cannot accept a job without approval from their Mahram (owner)

  24. COnsidering women can’t work as cashiers or sell underwear without causing extremists hearts to stop cold in their chests…being an engineer seems beyond their current grasps.

  25. @Aafke

    “how do you feel about the way your government and society treat women.”

    I don’t like it.

    “Are you a progressive who takes a stand against them? Or are you just always trying to explain why things are the way they are? Because the latter is not a progressive.”

    When it’s in discussion, I don’t shy away from my views.

    “What are you doing to change things and support the women of Saudi who are trying to push the envelope?”

    Absolutely nothing. Maybe I’m selfish, but I would rather avoid the fight for reform for minority rights, and women rights. I would rather finish up school, settle down with a stable job, and a kid or two down the road. All that obviously taking place outside of Saudi Arabia.

  26. @JC are you a progressive or an Atheist?

  27. From reading his comments I would say neither

  28. I had heard that numerous saudi women who obtained their education outside Saudi decide not to return. Does anyone know if there is any truth to this?

  29. @JC

    Okay, so are you saying that before women can obtain greater rights religion must be tackled first? That this creates an additional barrier than the women in the US in their fight for equality. Is that what you trying to get across?

    Here is another question. You said you plan to marry and not go back to Saud. I remember you had stated that you were in college from a earlier post. Are you on a scholarship? Are your parents here in the US? Just Curious.

  30. @bigstick

    If progressive means that I am for liberal ideas, then yes I would consider myself one. I think I’ve stated it plenty of times before, but I am an Atheist. My parents are in Saudi Arabia, and in regards to studying in college, I’ve funded myself in the beginning, but I have managed to obtain the scholarship.

    “Okay, so are you saying that before women can obtain greater rights religion must be tackled first? That this creates an additional barrier than the women in the US in their fight for equality. Is that what you trying to get across? ”

    Spot on, your words do my explanation justice. There lies the problem. In order for women to gain basic rights, and the minorities of Saudi Arabia, the religion itself has be put up to critique: which is something I don’t see happening in Saudi Arabia.

    I know it’s a confusing situation over there, how would you go about it?

  31. @bigstick

    “I had heard that numerous saudi women who obtained their education outside Saudi decide not to return. Does anyone know if there is any truth to this?”

    I only know of one case where that has happened, I’m sure there are others.

  32. It is a combination punch.

    1) You must get wealthy influential women to fully support the cause. They have the ear to wealthy influential men who can make changes.
    2) Get as many women educated and exposed to other cultures.
    3) Get women educated as theological scholars both inside and outside Saudi.
    4) Get other Islamic/Muslim countries to have scholars look at the doctrine and really start talking about the problems with the quran.
    5) Actually allow scholars full access to the qurans that are currently in existence.
    6) Discuss the language problems in the quran, the differences in the qurans, the connotions problems that existed up until the 9 century when it was finally codified.
    7) Discuss the fact that there is no known full original quran in existance that can be dated back to the prophets time.
    8) Bring up the Yemen quran.
    9) Allow scholars to really scrunitize the quran’s language problems even if that means in other Islamic countries.
    10) Get women involved at all levels. It will take a while.
    11) Tear the hadith apart at every level. Show the contradictions. Everything.
    12) Always get as much information out to shame them. They don’t like that and tend to change showing to the populace a weakness.
    13) Countries should not accept cultural practices that are detrimental and harmful to it’s society.
    14)Never give up.

    Just some suggestions.

  33. @JC

    None of it is easy to do. The best way to defeat extremism is from within. Organizing men and women. Teaching the children to use critical thinking and critizing what is being taught to the children. If the schools don’t change the parent can still show a different path than society. The old story about a stone throne in the lake. It starts as a small ripple and grows larger and larger.

  34. bigstick, I agree

    JC what are you smoking?

  35. The government schopRships are not sponsored by different agencies. There is only the one King Abdullah scholarship program. Currently women can study what they want from the government perspective. Recenty new labor agreements were made to allow women to work in most fields- though as we all know the actual implementation of that is almost certain to be problematic. Apparently female cashiers are back ‘on’ as I was waited on one last week.

  36. @Aafke

    I’m sorry?

  37. @bigstick

    Thanks for your response buddy. That was actually intuitive, and I hope people take up the cause in the future. In my case, you can’t give up on something you’ve never started. Maybe it’s cowardice, or selfishness, it’s just not a cause I want to take up.

  38. @bigstick

    In case you’re interested, I’ve actually written a paper on Qur’anic transmission for an Islamic history course I took and how faulty the traditional view is. Hook me up with your e-mail, and I’ll be glad to share it with you. You’ve got a brilliant way of stringing words together, so critique on your end would definitely be appreciated.

  39. @bigstick,

    You lost me after number 2.

    The problem is caused by religion and clerics, your solutions proposes more influence clerics and religion. I will try to cover some of the assumptions that make your solutions not work (not just difficult)

    – The underlying theme of your argument is reforming the religion. I assume that comes from the background of the reformation of Christianity. I think to assume that reformation is a reformed religion is a fallacy. All reformation did is break the grip of the Catholic Church and create Protestant movement. The bible did not lose its ugly verses. As a matter of fact the same reformist movement still applied doctrine to kill witches (ref the Salem Witch Trials)

    – You assume that even if people discuss different versions of the Quran some how they will come up with a better one. I assume you believe the Quran is the work of men and is heavily influenced by the prophet and his followers. Now historically the prophet is a power hungry warlord that followed the rules of wars at the time (Killing, looting, enslaving, etc.) If these tyrants produced all of these assumed versions, why do you expect any of them will be any better than what we have today. Even if you are able to get people to actually do this (snow ball’s chance in hell odds), what you are going to get is not worth any effort.

    – Challenging the Hadith, is also another impossibility. These events happened 1400 years ago. The methods of collecting the Hadiths are as good as any. Challenging the works of someone like Bukhari who was meticulous in documenting his sources cannot be done. Especially since you are a number of centuries removed from the events.

    You entirely missed what has been successful in the West. Westerners did not achieve the improvements you see today by reforming religion. They did it by embracing secularism. For Muslim countries this will be much easier than it was for westerners. They already have successful models to use. It is the 21st century and we have advanced methods of communications to educate the masses without physical interaction (i.e. you do not have to be on the ground and risk being arrested or killed for your message to get to others).

    The driver for improvement is not to get people to discuss more religion or have the clerics lead the charge. Improvement will come by educating people and they will start to reject illogical dogmatic ideas. Once that happens, the religious institutions will start to back peddle and give up much of their control as has been happening in the West for quite sometime.

    Cheers!

  40. @MoQ

    I know you want to completely dismantle the iquran and hadith. You have to do it in baby steps open the door for scrunity first. Get people talking about the holes in the scripts, the language problems, the contradictions, etc. This opens the door for people to see it as falliable. Once this happens people can start to question everything about the dogma. You have to shot holes in the bottom of the boat before people start jumping overboard. As long as the boat is floating few leave. Women also have a vested interest in helping it sink if given the opportunity. Self interest.

  41. @Bigstick,

    I do not want to completely dismantle Quran and Hadith, I think that is impossible. This is why I think what you are recommending is also impossible.

    People talking about holes in scripts and the language etc. is something I advocate. I consistently have done that at bedu and encourage others to see the errors not just in the items you mentioned but in the entire logical construct of the dogma.

    The difference is I do not advocate for a reform of the religion following some kind of process. I think that is an impossible goal and I also do not think clerics and religious scholars have the right motivation to improve. Their goal have always been to protect their positions and prestige.

    What I advocate for is education of the people not reformation of religion. That education can follow the pattern you described, but it should be done in a none structured grassroot manner. When people become less religious (there is a spectrum of this, not every one will be an atheist), the control of religion over them becomes less. They make better logical decisions.

  42. @MoQ
    Actually scholars both islamic and western have been bring it up. They are being shut down, exiled or killed by the clerics and their followers. That is why you need to take a multiple tasked approach. Along with teaching children at home the problems of the text as you might be swimming against a raging river of old fossils who are hell bent on keeping power and keeping status quo.

  43. @bigstick,

    “Along with teaching children at home the problems of the text as you might be swimming against a raging river of old fossils who are hell bent on keeping power and keeping status quo.”

    There is no evidence of that really. Christians books Old and New testament both are full of ugly content comparable to the Quran. However, most Western Christians read the books and most of that ugly stuff does not stick. When was the last time heard a Christian advocate for Killing a person working on the Sabath?

    Same for Muslims by the way, most Muslims do not support slavery although their religion does.

    The difference between Western Christians and Muslims is the degree to which the average person is religious. Christians are less religious and thus appear more reasonable even though their dogma is as bad as Muslim Dogma.

    Again the difference between our positions is which one can be more effective. A grass root education of the masses using today’s advantages of technology to get people less religious or a rigid process of trying to reform sacred books which sit at the heart of the religions.

    Note the second has not been tried successfully in any religion.In my opinion it has close to 0% chance of succeeding in Islam.

  44. @MoQ

    We are on the same page. I definitely believe it putting it out there over the internet as well. My theory is hit them from every side. We both have the same intent to defang the beast.

  45. @bigstick, Thanks that was a good exchange.The world will be a better place as long we keep educating against dogma.

  46. Your welcome got to go for now.

  47. @JC

    Okay here is a email address you can send the paper to.

    itsatemp1234@yahoo.com

  48. I’ve known Saudi women on or had been on scholarship programs who say they’d like to stay but a high majority does return home. However I think they return back to the Kingdom with different eyes and new perspectives.

  49. @ American Bedu

    Do you know if those different eyes and new perspective is making a difference?

  50. The initiatives are new so I would say there will be differences known and seen in the near future.

    I will interject that I do know a number of Saudi students now who are outstanding representatives of their country.

  51. @ American Bedu

    I am sure there are some excellent students. Lets hope that Saudi actually benefits from them rather than sequester them. I think the worst thing you could do to people is to show what they could achieve, the possibilities, the opportunities of what humans are capable of then cage them when they get back. Let’s just hope that this is the beginning of a new chapter.

  52. I encourage all to watch:

  53. I enjoyed the video! Nouf comes across as a very well-balanced and extremely intelligent individual.

    Of course, I noticed that she is wearing hijab. Nothing wrong with that as it is of her own free will and choice. I also noticed that she is wearing tight jeans. If islam calls for modesty in dress, doesn’t tight jeans cancel out the hijab :)- Just some food for thought ….

  54. i need scolarship

  55. i like it

  56. …and if possible i need scholar ship,thank you.

  57. plz correct menur by mensur

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