A University professor from Saudi Arabia is halfway through a two-week visit at Drake University in Des Moines. Hend al-Khutaila says she is living proof of how opportunities for women are expanding in her arabic homeland. She says the teaching given to women and men is the same, as they graduate from the same university and have the same curriculum, but there are two separate campuses at the school, for women and men. 60-percent of the student body is female, she says, and there’s demand in higher education for more women professors. Professor Al Khutaila says in Saudi Arabia’s elementary schools, the age-old tradition of teaching girls and boys separately is being changed. Like many Saudi students, al-Khutaila got a government scholarship to study abroad and like most, she attended college in the U.S. When she returned home she was the first Saudi woman dean at the “women’s college” King Saud University. There were about 2800 women attending then, and when she left that position years later there were 17,000 women. In Saudi Arabia’s first national elections last month, women were not allowed to run for office or to vote. Professor al-Khutaila, who writes a column for an al-Jazeera newspaper, says she questioned that, and heard positive response from others who think it’s time to expand women’s rights in her country. She saw no objection to having women participate, and says while there’s nothing to prevent them from voting it’s a matter of time and of assessing public opinion about it. Professor al-Khutaila is at Drake through a Fulbright scholar program titled “Direct Access to the Muslim World.” She’s speaking to students at Drake as well as local schools, meeting with members of churches and advocacy organizations, and she’ll speak this Sunday at Des Moines’ Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ.
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