A Saudi woman raises a question during a meeting on women's career in civil aviation at Prince Sultan University campus in Saudi Arabia's capital of Riyadh, on Feb. 26, 2019. A recent meeting, as part of a "Let's Talk Aviation" campaign organized by Flynas in conjunction with Prince Sultan University, attracted women from across the industry. Flynas and Flyadeal, two Saudi low-fare airlines, have shattered the big blue ceiling, graduating their first class of female Saudi flight attendants and putting them on their first flights earlier this year. (Xinhua/Centre for International Communication)
RIYADH, March 11 (Xinhua) -- It did not take long for Saudis to get used to female cashiers at local supermarkets in 2010, nor saleswomen explaining the differences of electronics a couple of years later.
Then came women behind the wheel in 2018. Next up: Saudi women will be working at an altitude of 30,000 feet as cabin crew to ensure the safety and comfort of airline passengers.
Flynas and Flyadeal, two Saudi low-fare airlines, have shattered the big blue ceiling, graduating their first class of female Saudi flight attendants and putting them on their first flights earlier this year.
It is another sign of the Saudi drive to empower women in the workplace and in a society that, until recently, curtailed most moves to put women on an equal footing with men in the country.
With aviation earmarked as a main component in the campaign for economic diversification, privatization and increased employment of women, Flynas has taken the initiative to pursue those goals through the establishment of its "Future Pilots" and "Flight Attendants" programs, both of which proactively encourage the participation of women. Until now, passengers on Saudi airlines were attended to by foreigners.
Flyadeal, which had begun posting jobs for Saudi women to work as flight attendants in the second half of 2018, graduated its first cadre of female Saudi flight attendants earlier this year, and started working soon afterward.
"Saudi women are as competent as their male counterparts when it comes to working as flight attendants and ensuring the safety and comfort of travellers," said Mashael Muteb, Flynas' first female Saudi flight attendant who had been trained as a dentist before entering Flynas' flight attendants program.
Muteb, who has a degree in dentistry and public health without background in aviation, said her love for flying and aviation arose when her sister graduated from the flight school.
"But there were no jobs for her in this field in Saudi at the time. I continued studying health as there were no aviation tracks or courses offered at universities in Saudi yet. But that all changed last September on hearing Flynas' announcement of introducing more jobs in aviation for women," she said.
Her first experience of flying as a stewardess was on the Flynas Airbus A320. She recalled the first flight as "an opening eye experience on dealing with different personalities".
There does not seem to be much dispute about the abilities of Saudi women to play valuable roles in aviation. According to Flynas, some 300 women and men are expected to attend its flight attendants' program over the next two years, and the airline expects to begin employing Saudi female co-pilots in the near future.
In January 2018, Eqbal Darandari, an assistant professor of psychology at King Saud University in Riyadh and one of the first female members of the Shura Council, the consultative assembly of Saudi Arabia, called for the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) and Saudi airline companies to support employing Saudi women as pilots, co-pilots and flight attendants.
Empowering Saudi women in business and integrating them into a predominantly male job market is a substantial part of fulfilling the country's Vision 2030, which also intends to increase women's participation in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent by the end of the next decade.
A recent meeting, as part of a "Let's Talk Aviation" campaign organized by Flynas in conjunction with Prince Sultan University, attracted women from across the industry.
Raghda Al-Sulaimani, corporate communications manager at Nesma, a small Saudi airline, began her professional life as a copywriter before receiving a job offer from the airline.
In addressing her female cohorts working in aviation, Al-Sulaimani stressed the importance of creating a balance and a culture of equality between men and women in the workplace. She also urged all aviation companies to create more opportunities for women.
And it is not just the private sector that is opening its doors to women. The GACA hired Maha Al-Yamani, a specialist in risk management, as its first female employee.
According to Al-Yamani, an abundance of positions are available in the aviation sector for Saudi women and the future looks bright in the light of the recent doubling of the number of Saudi women working in the field.
A series of reforms in the country over the past two years has focused largely on empowering women. Notable among these reforms was a Royal Decree issued in September 2017, which lifted the ban on women driving from June 24, 2018.
Recently, Saudi women broke down the gender barriers across public sectors. According to Saudi Press Agency, there are 220 women working at the Ministry of Justice which has granted law practice licenses to 418 female lawyers and trained 3,140 others.
In February, Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan was appointed as the ambassador to the United States, making history by becoming the first Saudi woman to take such position.
"Whether on the ground or in the air, the sky's the limit for us," said Esraa Alem, 31, communication representative at the Saudi Ground Services Company (SGSC).