Women's education in Saudi Arabia

Women's education in Saudi Arabia is, as with many aspects of daily life, organized according to the principles of Islam, which is the official religion of the country, and which puts emphasis on the importance of knowledge, study, and understanding. The religion believes that obtaining knowledge is the only way to gain true understanding of life, and as such encourage both males and females to study.[1] [2] The way of practicing Wahhabi Islam has therefore led to segregation in education in Saudi Arabia, and in turn has created segregation in political, economic, and labor force environments. With the current struggle of social norms and laws, women have made great strides to obtain education in Saudi Arabia. However great these strides may be, there are consequences to the economy from not allowing women to have access to equal education, including potential economic struggle.


The first school for girls in Saudi Arabia, called the Dar al-Hanan School, opened in 1956, and until then, few girls had an opportunity to get an education of any kind. The first state-run school was opened in 1960/61.[3] The first women college in Saudi Arabia was established by the General Presidency for the Education of Girls in 1970.[4] Until 2002 different departments regulated education for males and females, as women's education was controlled through the Department of Religious Guidance while men's education was overseen by the Ministry of Education. The reason the Department of Religious Guidance retained control of education for women was to ensure that the women were educated in accordance with the principles of Islam as interpreted in Saudi Arabia, which traditionally espoused that women take roles that would be considered gender appropriate such as motherhood, housewifery, teaching, or nursing.[5] According to Natana Delong-Bas, the apparent suppression of women's education by contemporary Wahhabi regimes is due to the adherence to the interpretation of Wahhabi Islam.[1] Mona AlMunajjed explains how within the last 40 years the government has built an educational program that is succeeding in increasing school and university enrollment for women. Improvement in reducing illiteracy rates has also been a success in building the educational infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. Over the years basic education has been offered for children, both male and female, and has been of high quality. Over the history of women's education in Saudi Arabia, women have received basic literacy and numeracy skills, and have completed primary school on time.[6]

Segregation in social lifeEdit

Norms of educationEdit

Male guardians are responsible for making many decisions for women in Saudi Arabia. Women in Saudi Arabia need permission to study. The social norm of guardianship has eliminated many resources and materials that women cannot access for educational purposes. Many women have limited visiting times to public libraries, at which their male guardian would need to be present, and that is if there are visiting hours at all to these types of public libraries. Most of the time women are only allowed into libraries specific to women. This causes a huge gap in educational materials women are allowed to view and obtain.[7] Not much has been written about the Wahhabi Islamic religious establishment's position on women's education. What is usually written about is the determined effort to keep the traditional religious values and norms of Saudi Arabian society. Some religious establishments battle against the modern state education system to ensure that traditional social norms are followed. Most of these educational norms root from Wahhabi Islam.[3]


In Saudi Arabia, officials may ask women for their male guardians' consent. This can happen even when no law or guideline requires such consent. Current practices assume women have no power to make their own decisions. This can have a huge impact on how women can receive education in Saudi Arabia. One example of how women are checked for guardian consent is in many airports, officials ask women of all ages for written proof that their guardian has allowed them to travel. Many women have to receive consent to travel, even for educational reasons. Although the government has taken some steps to limit the power of guardians, there is little evidence showing that officials are backing down from guardian consent.[7]

Enrollment and segregation in educationEdit

The struggle for women's education is an ongoing battle in Saudi Arabia. There is no schooling that allows men and women to be in the same class. Segregation of men and women's education has been part of Saudi Arabia's culture for much of the twentieth century. Abdul Aziz, the founder of the Saudi Kingdom, wanted and showed his support for women's education. However, though Abdul Aziz supported the cause of education for women, educational resources seem to have been dedicated mainly to boys. Women have struggled to obtain equality at every level of education in Saudi Arabia.[citation needed] At the University level, women are allowed to view lectures given by a male professor through a monitor. These women can then choose to ask questions over the telephone.[8] There are, however, higher enrollment rates allowing for gender equality among school students. Statistics show an increase from 272,054 female enrollments in 1974-75 to 2,121,893 in 2004-05. That is a level increase of 33 percent to 48 percent *wrong percentage* in 30 years.[6] Despite classes and even entire schools being segregated, there is a movement in the right direction for enrollments.

Consequences of educational segregationEdit

Labor market segregationEdit

Women in Saudi Arabia continue to be marginalized almost to the point of total exclusion from the Saudi workforce. Saudi Arabia has one of the lowest rates of working women in the world.[9] Women account for only 4% of the total workforce and 10.7% of the labor force. In recent years there has been an issue that has intensified the need for a larger labor force, and allowing women out of the home and into the economy. There has been integration of women in the workforce, but under religious customs, women continue to be secluded from men.[10] In Saudi Arabia, there are no female judges or prosecutors. The government enforces sex segregation in all workplaces with the exception of hospitals. If the government discovers unlawful mixing of the sexes, they are authorized to arrest the violators and bring them to the nearest police station where they can be criminally charged. The Saudi Labor Code does not include anything requiring sex segregation in the workplace. However, there is little evidence that this has in any way affected the current work environment. The issue of guardianship is introduced and employers in both the private and public sector require female staff to obtain the permission of a male guardian in order to be hired. When women reach working age, employers often do not ask for permission, although the government requires teachers to provide such permission.[7]

Political participationEdit

Saudi Arabia is governed by sharia law. Sharia law is open to many interpretations, but it does not usually encourage women to hold prominent positions. In 2005 Saudi Arabia held its first nationwide elections. Women, who make up more than 50% of the population, did not participate. They were not permitted to vote or run as candidates in the elections.[11] With the exclusion of political participation, Abdulaziz Al-Heis contends that women will not be able to participate and find a platform to have their voice heard for equality and other demands. There needs to be a push forward and renewal of institutions for religious ideas so the political economy can include both men and women.[12] Since 2015, women are allowed to vote and present themselves as candidates for the country's municipal elections.

Progress in women's educationEdit

In 2015, 52 percent of all university graduates in Saudi Arabia were female. According to statistics, Saudi women constitute 51.8 percent of Saudi university students. There are 551,000 women studying for bachelor's degrees compared with 513,000 men. The ministry reported 24,498 Saudi women are completing their graduate studies. A total of 16,221 are completing their master's and 1,744 are completing their PhD. The ministry also reported Saudi women studying abroad are dispersed across 57 countries. The U.S. has the largest number with 18,221 students. There are 6,754 Saudi women students in Europe, 2,923 in Canada and 1,445 in Australia and New Zealand. The Arab world has 5,369 Saudi women studying in the region. The ministry also reported Saudi women are studying in various fields including education, social sciences, arts, business, law, engineering, natural sciences, agriculture, medicine and the service sector, and recently, P.E. [13] Other notable achievements included opening Saudi Arabia's first coed university, The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), near the coastal city of Jeddah, in 2009, and the world's largest female-only university, the Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University, in the more conservative capital of Riyadh. While there is more that could be offered to better the education system, it must be said that progress has been made, with women's participation rates tripling over the past few decades and women taking on new types of professions, from Olympic athletes to supermarket cashiers. Indeed, Saudi feminist Samar Fatany credits King Abdullah with extending women's work opportunities beyond the education and medical sectors into areas such as banking, IT, architecture, and science.[14]

List of universities that enroll womenEdit

There are currently 36 universities in Saudi Arabia that allow women to enroll, with a number of them being for women only.[15]

  • Institute of Public Administration
  • University of Ha'il
  • Salman bin Abdulaziz University
  • Shaqra University
  • Baha University
  • University of Business and Technology
  • Batterjee medical college


  1. ^ a b Delong-Bas, Natana (2004). Wahhabi Islam. 198 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10016: Oxford University Press, Inc. p. 194.CS1 maint: location (link)
  2. ^ Hobday, Peter (1978). Saudi Arabia Today. London: The macmillan Press LDT. p. 90.
  3. ^ a b Yizraeli, Sarah (2012). Politics and Society in Saudi Arabia, The Crucial Years of Development, 1960-1982. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 227.
  4. ^ "Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University". Top Universities. 2015-07-16. Retrieved 2019-05-15.
  5. ^ Hamdan, Amani (March 2005). International Education Journal. 6 (1): 42. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ a b AlMunajjed, Mona (2009). Women's Education In Saudi Arabia. USA: Booz&Company. p. 2.
  7. ^ a b c Human Rights Watch, Perpetual Minors - Human Rights Abuses Stemming from Male Guardianship and Sex Segregation in Saudi Arabia, 20 April 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/480c3dd72.html [accessed 22 March 2014]
  8. ^ Metz, Helen (1993). Saudi Arabia A Country Study. Federal Research Division Library of Congress. p. 96.
  9. ^ Samiuddin and Khanam (2002). Muslim Feminism and Feminist Movement. India: Global Vision Publishing House. pp. 48–49.
  10. ^ Lackner, Helen (1978). A House Built on Sand - A political economy of Saudi Arabia. London: Ithaca Press. p. 208.
  11. ^ Kramer, Ann (2007). Human Rights: who decides. Heinemann Library a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Chicago Illinois. p. 28.
  12. ^ Al-Heis, Abdulaziz. "Women Participat ion in Saudi Arabia's Political Arena" (PDF).
  13. ^ http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/features/2015/05/28/More-women-than-men-in-Saudi-universities-says-ministry.html
  14. ^ http://www.mei.edu/content/article/education-key-women%E2%80%99s-empowerment-saudi-arabia#_ftn2
  15. ^ https://www.4icu.org/sa/