JEDDAH—Heading the first higher-education institution for women in Saudi Arabia, Effat University, comes with a heavy load of responsibility, but for its president, Haifa Reda Jamal Al-Lail, it has been the culmination of a long-held dream.
A public policy expert, Al-Lail never envisaged herself as an educator when she was studying in the 1980s, but as she leads young Saudi women into their future careers, she now sees it was a natural transition toward her dream of making a difference in the lives of Saudi women.
Al-Lail began her own studies with a bachelor’s degree in business administration at King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia before traveling to the United States, where she earned a Master of Public Administration and a Ph.D. in public policy at the University of Southern California.
Traveling with the support of her husband beside her enabled her to venture into a new world, where she dreamed of bringing long-awaited social change to Saudi women.
“At that time, there were limited choices for females in Saudi Arabia and my goal was really to be a change agent,” she said.
She wanted changes like allowing a woman “to open her own business without having to go under her sponsor, which is her father or her brother,” for example. She wanted women “to be able to leave the country without a guardian having to give her permission.”
Empowering Women With Education
But at the root of these wishes, she says, was the desire to empower women with education, which “really freed her.”