New female chiefs ready to take up roles beyond women’s affairs

EXCLUSIVE

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By Layan Damanhouri and Shahd Alhamdan

Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH –
A reshuffle in the municipality by Mayor Saleh Al-Turki led to structural changes and more opportunities for women that weren’t available in the past.

The mayor issued the reorganization of the municipality’s branches and redistributed over a dozen civil servants to various posts. Five were assigned to women, advancing women’s participation in leadership.

The changes and introduction of divisions such as an agency for hygiene services, community service, and a rain drainage project, among others, aim to increase productivity and performance, according to the mayor.

A newly created position called the supervisor of central municipalities is now taken up by Amani Mahmoud. She oversees the airport, Al-Sharafiyah, Al-Balad and Historical Jeddah and regularly meets with the mayor and his deputies.

Her ambitions have expanded beyond the women’s section where she worked during her career at the municipality. She said her shift to the administrative headquarters was met with professionalism and respect by fellow male colleagues despite her being the only woman occupying an office on the floor.

Women civil servants were previously segregated from other sections of the municipality and services were limited to women’s commercial affairs.

“Saudi women are penetrating all kinds of fields nowadays and the same is happening in this sector,” Ms. Mahmoud told Saudi Gazette. “The step could lead to increasing women in the organization in the coming years. Having a mix of genders in the organization creates for a healthier workplace.”

While she’s happy to see advancements in women empowerment, she didn’t expect women heading municipalities would be possible this quickly.

Asked about her most pressing assignments, she said the goals are according to the mayor’s directives of making Jeddah a world-class city, focusing on cleanliness, preserving the natural scenery and aesthetics.

Hiba Al-Bluwi amusingly describes her first week as chief of Al-Sharafiyah central municipality, a position where no woman has filled before.

Leaving the women’s section was a leap in itself and dealing with men and women clients was something she did not expect to happen.

“Many citizens, both men and women, were walking in and were surprised to find a woman running the municipality. It’s unusual at first but many were proud, saying words of encouragement and wishing their daughters would reach a similar position.”

She said her family and friends did not expect such a change to occur, adding that her husband was especially supportive of her promotion.

“Our dreams were focused within the women’s department,” she said. “Our responsibility was mainly on developing the services concerning businesswomen in Jeddah. Running Al-Sharafiya means we’re serving five districts that include all residents and this has expanded our role.”

Al-Bluwi’s role meant working on the ground and visiting the sites she’s responsible for. On her first field visit with her team, she monitored cases that need to be treated such as sidewalks, lighting, and other urban matters but didn’t face obstacles.

Photos of Dhahban’s new municipality chief Shadah Al-Mohanna inspecting a site widely circulated on social media as it was the first time for people to see a woman in the role.

When she graduated from university, Mariam Abualenain had a simple dream of having her own office and a phone. She didn’t realize that one day her hard work throughout the years would earn her a promotion to head the women’s municipality branch.

As a civil servant, she started out as an electronic communications employee and gradually made her way to become a deputy supervisor of the women’s section.

She was surprised to be chosen as head of the women’s municipality branch, a new division that was renamed from the general directorate for women’s services.

“I’m glad women are gaining more status and leadership positions in the Kingdom,” Abualenain said. “Eleven years ago when I first started working, the women’s section was newly opened at the time. Female residents were able to run their own matters and follow up by visiting the women’s section. They were very happy about it and expressed relief in being able to follow up their cases and dealing with female civil servants.”

Areej Al-Bugmi was named director general of human resources. After serving as a civil servant in the department and her experience in supervising a number of sections, she now oversees the entire department and reports directly to the mayor.

Her priority is to follow the King Salman Program for Development of Human Resources that aims to raise productivity and quality of employees, which she described as the biggest challenge she aims to overcome.

She was surprised at the decision to hire women in such leadership positions. “I didn’t expect something like this to happen so quickly,” she said. “Promoting women to positions they weren’t able to reach in the past is a great advancement for government organizations that pulls the organization ten years ahead. Throughout my career, I was working on developing my skills and earning experience from my managers but I’m glad I was granted the opportunity and trust to take up this role.”

After a video went viral showing inappropriate dancing by a female official inaugurating a park in Dhahban, the Jeddah Municipality stated the video was false and has nothing to do with Al-Mohanna, adding that legal action will be taken on false accusations.

However, the decision of female appointments also reaped positive responses from citizens and celebrations for progress in women empowerment in the Kingdom.

Ms. Mahmoud responded to the video as “unacceptable” and could not happen in real life, saying, “Our superiors in the organization have worked with us and know our work ethics. As women, we recognize professionalism and limits to anyone working in a professional environment.”

Although the position of municipality branch heads has been introduced to women employees, it’s not the first time for women to take up leadership in the municipality. Prof. Arwa Al-Aama was appointed as Vice Mayor of IT since 2009 which was considered the highest ranking position for a Saudi woman in municipalities and the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs.


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