Givology Staff's Blog

Education and Access: Shifting Gender Roles and Educational Opportunity in Saudi Arabia

In Saudi Arabia, women have long been legally inferior to their male counterparts, creating a patriarchal system of control and vast educational inequality. As a result, a woman’s education is dependent on the permission of her male guardian even past secondary school. For some women, this is not a problem, as their male guardians afford them a great deal of liberty to pursue opportunities and find a job. However, within more traditional families, women are almost entirely cut off from all educational and career opportunities. Nevertheless, in recent years, the liberalization of gender roles has allowed more women to pursue higher education and find work outside of the home.
[font="Times New Roman"]Educational institutions themselves such as schools and libraries are segregated by sex. Consequently, women have access to much lower quality books, resources, and school systems than men. Additionally, some educational materials and areas of study are accessible only by men, further enhancing this discrimination. For many years, women could not major in the fields of engineering, political science, or architecture, which is still incredibly difficult at most public universities. In other disciplines, the curriculum is deliberately different for men and women. Women’s textbooks and courses are taught at a much lower level, which reduces their ability to compete with men for jobs. [/font]
However, with the recent social activism focusing on gender equality in Saudi Arabia, the educational divide is shrinking as more women enjoy broader legal rights. In the last two years, women have been granted the right to drive, travel without male permission, and freely attend some social events. These policy changes, some of which have garnered international attention, have also coincided with a liberalized education system. For example, women who wished to study abroad with government aid formerly had to be accompanied by a male guardian. Now, this law no longer holds true. Female enrollment in universities has also increased, spurred by the opening of all women’s colleges. Saudi Arabia’s first all women’s university was opened in 2010 with the capacity to hold 60,000 undergraduates. This revolutionary school also helped women enter fields from which they had traditionally been barred, including the sciences. In fact, improvements in women’s access to education have been so strong that, in 2015, women composed the majority of undergraduate students at 52%.
Overall, women’s access to education in Saudi Arabia is a noteworthy success story. Just over 40 years ago, women’s enrollment in higher education was scarce as were their economic opportunities outside the home. Now, women’s presence in universities around the country has skyrocketed and allowed them to enter fields that were previously thought to be exclusively for men. Despite the fact that there is still work to be done, it is clear that Saudi Arabia is moving in the right direction to grant equitable access to education for all.


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