A pioneer in her field

Nadia Bakhurji recently won an impressive victory for Saudi women by being the first lady to be elected onto the newly formed Saudi Engineers Council.

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By  Charlotte Butterfield Published  April 6, 2006

Nadia Bakhurji recently won an impressive victory for Saudi women by being the first lady to be elected onto the newly formed Saudi Engineers Council. As the only female candidate, running for a seat against 72 males, most women would have seen this as a daunting prospect in a country where men far outnumber women in the professional sphere. Further more, women still remain effectively voiceless, excluded from participating in political life. However Bakhurji was unfazed and went on gain the fifth highest number of votes on the 10-member board. An interior designer and president of her own company, Riwaq of the Kingdom, which has grown to become a leading design firm in Saudi Arabia, Bakhurji paradoxically feels that being a woman gave her the lead against stiff competition, “I was confident I could make an impact. Professionally I have the experience and being a woman was an advantage, it gave me an edge, a unique perspective and platform. This is the decade of wonderful growth for women; we shouldn’t waste a day.” Saudi Arabia currently ranks as number 77 out of 177 countries in the Human Development Index; however Bakhurji is convinced that the rate of development is rapid and increasingly women have achieved landmark goals in the past decade. As a board member of the Arab International Women’s Forum, she is fully supportive of Arab women facing challenges in the world of commerce, society and politics. Her triumphant election onto the SEC allows her a new platform to champion the participation of women in industry. This task will form one of the main priorities in her agenda. “I am proud that I have achieved an important milestone in the history of Saudi women’s professional and economic progress and status. A seat on the board means authority, acknowledgment, respect, equality and opportunity. My election is a huge affirmation of my acceptance into the profession by my male colleagues.” Bakhurji has plans to increase female membership of the SEC (which currently stands at only 20 out of 5000 members), and develop policies, which support women practising in design and engineering fields. She is currently working to identify more gender sensitive strategies, which will support female presence in design, from education to practice. Although thousands of women now achieve university degrees, discriminatory practices and the strong gender bias in society ensures that this does not translate into employment and only about 5% of the country’s workforce are female with less than 1% of women who work going into business. Bakhurji has already made some impressive inroads since her election — she now chairs a new Women’s Engineers Committee in the SEC. Her ambitions don’t end there however, and she won’t be satisfied until she has accomplished an internationally acclaimed project. She has plans to develop a recreational, educational venue aimed at families; “We need such projects desperately here. I believe we need to address other social needs and develop projects which serve the community on deeper levels.” Bakhurji is passionate about her love of design, “Art is my passion, design, creativity, flowing lines, vibrant colours, dynamic forms and the list goes on. The process of design is a very nurturing one. It requires skill and creative art laced with a perception of the human soul.” It’s a perception, which has led the designer to become not just a remarkably successful businesswoman, but also one of the country’s leading champions for social progress.

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