January 11, 2010

Two women appointed to EP chamber board

Two women appointed to EP chamber board
Siraj Wahab | Arab News

DAMMAM: It was celebration time for women in the Eastern Province following the nomination of two of their representatives to the chamber of commerce. Hana Al-Zuhair and Samira Al-Suwaigh were among the six members appointed Sunday by Commerce and Industry Minister Abdullah Zainal Alireza to the Asharqia Chamber. This is the first time women in the Eastern Province will serve on the chamber’s board.

The ministerial appointments come three weeks after the elections that saw the victory of 12 businessmen to the board. The 18-member board is now complete. The new members will soon elect a president from among them either through consensus or through an internal ballot. The term of the previous board has expired.

None of the three women who stood in the polls last month was victorious. They won fewer than 100 votes among them. Al-Zuhair and Al-Suwaigh were not among the contestants. Both are hugely respected in the Eastern Province, and not only by businesswomen. Al-Zuhair is widely known for her excellent and pioneering work at Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Fund for Supporting Small Business Projects for Women. As the fund’s executive manager, she has helped dozens of entrepreneurial women to launch businesses.

Al-Suwaigh is well known as a hard-working businesswoman and is credited with much of the success of the Al-Moaibed Group. As a key member of the Businesswomen’s Forum of the Eastern Province, she has played an active role in highlighting issues concerning businesswomen in the region.

The other four members who were appointed to the chamber’s board on Sunday were Salman Al-Jishi, Abdullah Muhammad Al-Zamil, Nasser Al-Hajri and Muhammad Al-Farraj. Their appointments were widely welcomed by the business community.

The focus, however, was on the businesswomen. They have been seeking a place on the board for a long time. They stood twice in the elections — in December 2005 and December 2009 — but failed to gain seats. They pinned their hopes on a governmental push and the push came in the form of Sunday’s announcement from the commerce and industry minister.

Al-Zuhair was delighted at being appointed to the board. “It is a huge responsibility and I thank the country’s leadership, especially Gov. Prince Muhammad bin Fahd, for entrusting me with this very important job. Without the leadership’s support, this would not have been possible. My first priority will be the economic empowerment of women. That is the key to women’s development,” she told Arab News. “Without a doubt, it is a huge step for women in this region.”

Nora Al-Shuhail, president of the Businesswomen’s Forum of the Eastern Province, was overjoyed. “Samira is an honorable member of our forum. Therefore, we are excited beyond words. She deserves the honor. She is a successful businesswoman and a great mother. She assumed business responsibilities at a very young age and is a role model for all businesswomen,” Al-Shuhail told Arab News.

She admitted that the lack of electoral success had dampened the spirits of businesswomen in the region. “Women were expecting to win at least a seat or two and when that didn’t happen, we thought of getting in by being appointed. I want to thank the government for giving us the honor and for trusting our abilities to deliver,” said Al-Shuhail.

Hind Al-Zahid, manager of the Businesswomen’s Center at the Asharqia Chamber, was happy too. “This means women will now be part of the decision-making process at the chamber. That is hugely significant and means there will be a greater role for women in the chamber,” she said.

Al-Jishi, the businessman from Qatif who did not contest the elections, saying the younger generation should get a chance to run the chamber, said he still believed in that. “However, I thank Gov. Prince Muhammad bin Fahd and the minister for putting me on the board again. (He has served as a chamber board member for two four-year terms.) We will all work as a team to ensure the rapid progress of our region. The first priority of the new board should be to devise a good strategy for the next four years and then to implement it,” he said.

Al-Jishi said the appointment of women to the chamber was a good sign. “We were expecting this decision because this is in line with the king’s vision. The appointment of a woman as a deputy minister of education sometime back was a clear indication of the king’s philosophy of reform. These appointments are a continuation of that policy.”

Writer and researcher Abdullah Al-Alami described the women’s appointment as a major step forward for Saudi women, but said it was not enough. “We look for the day when capable Saudi women are appointed as full members of the Shoura Council, as ambassadors abroad, and as ministers of state,” he said.

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