My motherland, my motherland with deep roots,
It will always be above the clouds
It is a symbol of religiousness
It is a symbol of morals
My motherland is where all the Arabs' hearts drawn
Dubai: For the first time in Saudi Arabia's history, little girl students are reciting a poem written by a Saudi female poet.
"This is my biggest and most prominent accomplishment in my career and intellectual life," 33-year-old Eitedal Theker Allah said about introducing two of her poems in third-grade textbooks in the current academic year.
"Even if I don't achieve anything [else] in my life, I feel satisfied because I am contributing to building thoughts of a generation. It is a great feeling when you know that little girls in villages and cities alike around the kingdom are reciting your words," she told Gulf News.
The two poems entitled My motherland and My teacher were part of her collection of poems entitled The Songs of the Nightingale. The collection, released four years ago, is aimed at children ages five to nine.
It is the first collection of poems intended for children in Saudi Arabia, according to Eitedal, who studied Arabic language and literature at King Faisal University.
The story goes back nearly three years when a female official in the education committee was visiting the Riyadh International Book Fair, and Eitedal's collection caught her eye.
"The committee was looking for scripts for children written by a Saudi writer," said Eitedal, who is also a journalist, writer and head of the department for training female workers at the Social Affairs Ministry.
That moment, luck smiled on Eitedal.
Late last year the poems were printed in the new textbooks. Currently, the new books are still in the experimental stage, and are being distributed in only 40 schools. They are expected to be distributed to all schools in the kingdom at a later stage.
"I consider it an excellent move," Suad Al Harthi, an academic consultant at the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education, replied when asked her opinion of introducing female poets in the Saudi curriculum.
"We don't believe the decision came late. It rather came at the right time," Suad told Gulf News.
Saudi Arabia is in the process of updating its curriculum in almost all subjects, Saudi officials said. Several committees were formed as part of a major project for that purpose.
Hundreds of Saudi researchers of both genders participate in the project, which is among main projects advocated by King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz.
At the same time, Saudi Arabia is a more open society than it was before, and "the curriculum process should respond to the changes [social and economic]. They have added new texts to many subjects," Suad said.
"For sure," she said when asked whether more works by female authors will be included in the kingdom's textbooks. "This depends on the era and the needs of the curriculum … Saudi women's presence [and their works] are not for decoration," Suad, who was educated in the US, added.
Women constitute nearly 50 per cent of the Saudi population.
The image of Saudi women abroad — that they are oppressed and widely discriminated against — no longer holds true.
Many women's rights advocates say restrictions are being eased since King Abdullah's accession to the throne in 2005.
Women are increasingly making their presence felt in almost all fields of the country's labour market. They are doctors, nurses, engineers, bankers, journalists, writers and teachers.
Also, there are many female poets, who are excelling in various forms of the medium, including the classical form as well as prose.
Women steadily gaining prominence in country
According to the Saudi Gazette newspaper, Saudi women achieved many accomplishments in 2009.
The following is a list of the major achievements by women in the kingdom.
- The appointment of Norah Al Fayez as the first Saudi woman to a ministerial position. She is the Deputy Minister of Education for Women's Education.
- The elections of Lama Al Sulaiman as the first Saudi woman to be elected to the board of directors of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
- Dr Hiat Sendi presented 15 research papers at American universities in her field of specialisation.
- The appointment of Dr Khawla Al Crier, Director of Research at King Fahd National Centre for Children with Cancer, part of the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre in Riyadh. She is also senior editor at the scientific research journal, BMC Genomics.
- Lama Al Galib, a Dar Al Hekma student, was chosen by British Cultural Council to represent Saudi Arabia at a global summit for young leaders. The summit also hosted more than a thousand people from the top echelons of politics, business and civil society.
- Muna Abu Sulaiman, the Executive Director of the Al Waleed Bin Talal Foundation, was chosen to attend a four-month fellowship to develop global leaders at Yale University.
- Nora Yahya Seddiq, a beauty centre owner and businesswoman, was chosen as the president of the Federation of Gulf International Decorating and a member of the World Federation for Decorating in Italy.
- Gada Baaqil won an award, and partial funding, from the Youth Business International (YBI) for her idea to set up a centre for autistic children.
- Dr Lubna Al Elian was the first Saudi woman elected to the board of King Abdullah University for Science and Technology. The university was inaugurated in September last year.
- Zaki Bin Abboud, a prominent designer, won the Oscar Golden Palm for her clothing collection, titled Angels, at the Carnival European Film Festival in Italy.
Have your say
Do you think women are slowly being incorporated into mainstream society in Saudi Arabia? What are other areas besides education that could be advanced by women? Do you think there will be a backlash against such moves? Tell us.