By Claire Zillman
February 21, 2017

Women in Saudi Arabia notched a first yesterday when Samba Financial Group named Rania Mahmoud Nashar as its CEO. Never before has a woman led a listed Saudi commercial bank.

Her appointment came four days after NCB Capital CEO Sarah Al Suhaimi was named the first woman to chair Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange, Tadawul.

The progress—albeit mild—of women in the upper echelon of Saudi business comes as the government tries to increase its efficiency and lessen its reliance on oil, in part, by expanding women’s role in the economy.

The accomplishments of Nashar and Al Suhaimi are certainly notable, but it’s difficult to celebrate the progress of a few Saudi women when the female population at large still has limited rights. Saudi women are, of course, banned from driving and subject to male guardianship.

In November, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal argued that if Saudi Arabia is really so concerned about its economy, it should let women drive. He pegged the cost of a chauffeur for the average woman at $1,000 per family per month. “Having women drive has become an urgent social demand predicated upon current economic circumstances,” he said.

The government was unconvinced. When Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled his “Saudi Vision 2030” to reduce the kingdom’s reliance on oil last year, he pushed for women to take a larger role in the workforce but stopped short of giving them more mobility to do so. “Women driving is not a religious issue so much as it is an issue that related to the community itself that accepts it or refuses it,” he said at the time.



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