October 29, 2008 / 3:35 PM / 11 years ago

Saudi Arabia to build its first women's university

Women walk past an empty coffee shop during summer, with temperatures rising above 42 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit) in Riyadh, July 12, 2007. REUTERS/Ali Jarekji

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah on Wednesday launched the construction of the first women-only university in the conservative Islamic state.

The Princess Noura Bint Abdelrahman University for Girls will offer courses in subjects like medicine, pharmacy, management, computer sciences and languages that women find difficulty in studying in normal universities where strict gender segregation is enforced.

“We hope you will be able to open this modern university when it is finished in two years time in continuation of your support for the process of modernization and development,” Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf said in a speech addressing the king at the site outside Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia’s powerful religious establishment has in the past resisted efforts to widen education for women and put them in the workplace, but King Abdullah is pushing social reforms to increase women’s employment.

The country of 25 million has state schools for girls and some private colleges for women.

The government has tried to reassure Saudis over the past two weeks that modernization schemes are on track after fears of a global economic slowdown helped push oil prices down to under $70 a barrel from double that three months ago.

Despite the U.S. ally’s famed riches, many areas are underdeveloped with a lack of roads, sewage system and schools.

No cost for the university was given by state media.

Reporting by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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