“I’d like to be an armed forces pilot in the future”, answered, Sarah, a twelve-year-old Saudi girl when asked about her ambitions. The dream is revolutionary. However, there is no law that prohibits dreaming in the Kingdom.
There is a misbelief that Saudi women have never existed in government sectors and agencies related to homeland security or military. This is not true. Since its foundation in 1932, the Ministry of Interior used to have limited recruits to run female prison wards, conduct screenings for women, and deal with specific women-related security issues or crimes. Female security screening rooms have continued to exist at all Saudi airports, seaports and border points for decades.
Evolution is inevitable when time is ripe. The latest recruitment announcement by the Saudi Ministry of Defense (MoD) called upon Saudi women to apply for military positions in specializations that used to be monopolized by men in the Saudi Arabian Army, Royal Saudi Air Defense, Royal Saudi Navy, Royal Saudi Strategic Missile Force, and Armed Forces Medical Services. It is a bright moment in the Kingdom’s modern history, where women empowerment is gaining momentum.
In July 2020, Saudi Prince Sattam bin Khalid Al Saud posted an image on his Twitter account, showing a female member of the Saudi Royal Guard (SRG). She was on duty at a royal palace. It was the first time Saudis have seen a local woman dresses in full military uniform.
The picture was hailed by rising young generations, which constitute over two-thirds of the population. This was reflected in the social media engagement. Older generations’ reactions were divided between those who support the move, those who questioned the physical ability of women to undertake military jobs, and those who are indifferent.
UNLOCKING THE POTENTIAL
The Saudi steps towards more inclusion for women across all sectors comes in the right moment. The biggest GCC country is currently going through a huge transformation, where the potential of women is being unlocked gradually for the wellbeing of all citizens, regardless of their gender.
Female military applicants must be between the age of 21 and 40. This means more generations will be included in the military services. Women can be recruited as soldiers, lance corporals, corporals, sergeants, and staff sergeants. The “officer” position is not included. This is because the military colleges have not opened admission yet. Those colleges are the ones whose graduates get the rank of officer.
“Saudi women’s ambitions are unlimited. This announcement is good to start off with. Nobody knows what surprises the future may hold”, said a Saudi lady in her twenties during a friendly discussion.
The status of females in the Arab military has progressed in recent decades. Some Arab countries have military colleges for women. Graduates of those colleges are officers. In countries like Algeria and Syria, female officers have reached the rank of “General” in the armed forces. Sometimes, when needed, they took up guns and fought in the battlefield.
UAE’s Mariam Al Mansouri is a pilot officer in the UAE Air Force. However, it has been always easier for Arab female officers to reach higher ranks in the interior ministries’ agencies.
Opening the doors of admission to the military colleges and scholarships for females in the international military schools could be one of many empowering steps in the future. Saudi women have shown remarkable success in the fields of diplomacy, public and private management, and leadership in different positions.
Saudi Arabia is investing in manufacturing arms locally to develop the national military manufacturing capabilities. The General Authority of Military Industries (GAMI) which has been in existence since 2017 to boost the Saudi military infrastructure, employ more women than ever in its investment sector.
“Sarah’s dream might come true sooner than expected. I believe in the magic of dreams”, concluded Sarah’s mother, who was born and raised in a military family.