First female Saudi Student Association president works to dispute American misconceptions

Malak Almunyify stands as the first female president for University of Oregon’s Saudi Student Association.

“I am the first woman to be a leader in Eugene, but I am not the first woman to be a leader,” Almunyify said. “Women being leaders is not new.”

In the beginning of the school year, the SSA conducted a formal celebration for the National Day for Saudi Arabia with 150 people and gifts provided for children.

“The goal was to show Americans, and everyone, our culture,” Almunyify said.

Abdulrhman “AJ” Aljaafari, previous SSA President and current EMU Board of Directors member, said when he was president he had a female vice president, who he attributes many of his successes to.

“Culture plays a huge role in both men and women understanding,” Aljaafari said. “There is a council similar to congress in Saudi Arabia, and, for the past five years, there has been a woman in that council and that’s a huge deal for women.”

Saudi Arabia has been making progress as well. A recent election of women into the municipal councils as well as the 130,000 women who are now registered to vote are signs of this advancement .

“It’s very important for women to see themselves as leaders. It is important to have both males and females to change misconceptions about Saudis” Aljaafari said.

Fahma Mohammed, former Muslim Student Association board member, said the way Americans see Muslims is based off extremists reported by the media.

“I honestly blame not only the individuals, [but also] the media for how Americans see Muslims.” Mohammed said.

Mohammed said she acknowledges the growth that Muslims have achieved regarding the value of women, which is in contrast to what many Americans believe.

“Back in the day, men knew what roles they had, and women knew what they had to do for the family, and it was very separate,” Mohammed said. “Now, men grow up and they have the value of women taught to them. It’s this very equal understanding that just because I am a woman, I don’t have to be put down.”

Aljaafari said he suggested the idea of presidency to Almunyify and she was very surprised. However, Almunyify said she grew excited about the idea and her family supported her.

“When I first thought about being president, I called my brother and my family and they were very supportive of it and called me every day,” Almunyify said. “Family might be the most important and all of my friends are like my family. Men and women alike, we are a family to create a good environment here for all Saudi students and international students.”

Almunyify said she plans to create more of a community between all of the international groups, as there is a noticeable separation between them.

“International student groups are all kind of isolated by themselves, Saudis by themselves and Arabs by themselves. It’s important for the UO community to be as unified as possible despite the culture and backgrounds,” Aljaafari said. “I know [Almunyify] will represent the community very well.”

Almunyify said she is focused on not only giving women a voice, but also making the community feel satisfied.

“We just want people to be happy,” Almunyify said.

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Olivia Decklar

Olivia Decklar