Saudi Women in Higher Education: A Glimpse into Their World

By Roskey, Carol B. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, September 2006 | Go to article overview
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Saudi Women in Higher Education: A Glimpse into Their World


Roskey, Carol B., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


Working with colleagues in another country always provides a challenge, even if it is nothing more than time zones and a different culture. To ease communication, it is important to know as much as possible about the other country beforehand, including learning about the population, literacy rates, birth rates, income, housing type, the type of government, and how policies are made.

The opportunity to work in Saudi Arabia to address trends in human sciences and the changing role of women indeed brought many challenges. The invitation included additional work on the curriculum with faculty at King Faisal University, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. An Iowa State University course in Arabic helped to prepare me. Even though most Saudis spoke English, they appreciated my greetings in their language and efforts to get to know them.

I was told it was unnecessary to wear an abaya, but I requested one anyway. Safety was a major issue and this reduced personal visibility considerably. Most of the time, I was with women who were dressed similarly in public and my attempt to fit in was appreciated. When the women were alone, they removed their abaya.

My understanding was that male and female students attended classes together on one campus, but this turned out to mean that they were on the same grounds but separated; presentations were broadcast into the women's section. The women went to the library on the main campus once a week, when the men were not allowed to be in the building. The presentation to the conference group was given in the women's area and voice transmission was sent to the area where the men were. Unable to see the overheads, the men were hampered in understanding the presentation. For all of the male presentations, however, women received video.

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