Skip to main content

Saudi activist: Female minister 'first step' but more needed

  • Story Highlights
  • King Abdullah Saturday appointed Norah al-Faiz as vice minister for women's education
  • New post is the highest rank a woman has achieved in the Saudi government
  • Prominent women's rights activist: Will al-Faiz possess any real power?
  • Activist: Women not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, regarded as property of men
  • Next Article in World »
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

(CNN) -- The appointment of a Saudi woman as a vice minister in the country's government is a "first step" for women's rights in Saudi Arabia, but "more serious changes" are needed, an outspoken advocate said Sunday.

Saudi King Abdullah has appointed a woman to his council of ministers for the first time.

Saudi King Abdullah has appointed a woman to his council of ministers for the first time.

"It is something really great, and we are very proud of our king that he took this decision," Wajeha al-Huwaider told CNN. "And I think it's going to be the first step toward the reform that he promised."

King Abdullah on Saturday appointed Norah al-Faiz to serve as the newly created vice minister for women's education as part of a major Cabinet reshuffling. It is the highest rank a woman has achieved in the Saudi government.

"I'm very proud to be nominated and selected for such a prestigious position," al-Faiz told CNN on Saturday. "I hope that other ladies, females, will follow in the future."

Al-Faiz said she's confident her appointment is not simple tokenism.

"I think by being the second person after the minister, I think I have enough power to work in the improvement of girls' education," she said. Video Watch more on the shake-up in the Saudi government »

But al-Huwaider said it is unclear if al-Faiz will have any real power, or if she will follow the path of other Saudi women who had been appointed to lower councils but were never heard from.

She noted that Saudi women still do not have the right to drive and are still recognized under Saudi law as the property of men.

"Even this minister now ... she is not really in control of her life," al-Huwaider noted. "It is not up to her, it's up to her male guardian."

She said the "guardianship system" is the first thing that should be removed by the new Saudi government.

"This is the main thing that is controlling our life," al-Huwaider said. "We want to be able to drive our cars, you know, to feel like we are just like the rest of the world."

Other positions that were replaced were the head of Saudi Arabia's influential Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, as well as the ministers of health, justice, culture and education.

Khaled al-Maeena, editor-in-chief of Arab News, an English-language daily newspaper in Saudi Arabia, said that the entire Cabinet reshuffling "sends a clear signal that the King means business."


"King Abdullah has always been saying this for quite some time, that he would like to see the country progress," al-Maeena told CNN. "He has taken many initiatives, reforms, enhanced the power of women....

"And right now, by getting these people who are young -- some of them -- who have the right ambition and the right knowledge, to go ahead, I think it means that there is going to be a march towards progress."

CNN's Nic Robertson and Mohammed Jamjoom contributed to this report.

All About Saudi ArabiaKing Abdullah

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print