Lama Al-Sulaiman: A Powerbroker for Female Empowerment

A change-making extraordinaire in the history of achieving firsts among some of the most prominent titles allowed to women in Saudi Arabia is Lama Al-Sulaiman.

She was elected as a Board member to the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) in 2005, being the first woman to achieve the title. Al-Sulaiman was also re-elected as Vice Chairwoman in 2009 to the JCCI, making it a first in the history of women achievements in the Kingdom.

But that’s not all! Breaking through the glass ceiling to the historical municipal elections in 2015, where Saudi women were for the first time allowed to vote and stand as candidates, Al-Sulaiman won alongside twenty other women.

However soon after being elected to the council, Al-Sulaiman resigned from her post after her male counterparts who refused to sit at the same table requested for full segregation. Speaking about her decision, she said, “We need to understand that in Saudi Arabia, even though we have strict rules, the only thing we do have as women today is a choice.”

She went on to explain that positions attract women because they have a desire to participate and they fail to attract them when they’re unable to participate fully and completely. “For me, being segregated means not being able to participate,” said Al-Sulaiman. “I’ve always mixed with men professionally, everywhere I’ve worked during the past 10 years. It taught me that when you’re in a professional environment, especially when you hold a leadership position, there is no way that men are going to decide whether women should be segregated or not. The segregation issue is a woman’s choice that cannot be imposed by men. That’s why I left and I feel great.” 

Successfully receiving a PhD in Biochemistry from London’s King’s College, Al-Sulaiman started her first job as a Lab Technician at a medical research centre. Fourteen years later, she quit her job to become a full time volunteer. “Volunteering helped me find proximity to the people, their needs, choices and struggles,” she said in one of her TEDx speeches.

She leveraged her network and experience to find solutions to help as many people. “I was on a roll and nothing could stop me,” she said.

But it wasn’t long before Al-Sulaiman, a mother of four, was diagnosed with breast cancer and astonishingly just a week before standing at the JCCI election won a deadly struggle against the fatal disease. Describing it as a life-changing and an amazing experience at the same time, she said, “I was close to God and stronger than ever.”

Al-Sulaiman also serves on the boards of Saudi Arabia’s General Authority for Entertainment, Ekhaa Charity Society, Rolaco Trading & Contracting, Foras Investment and Club Med in France. She’s also an advisor at Coutts London, head of Saudi Arabian Employers delegation at International Labour Organization and in the Women Steering Committee at the Ministry of Labour.

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