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Saudi Women Everyone Should Know About

Saudi women walking in a mall in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Saudi women walking in a mall in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia | © Tribes of the World / Flickr
Picture of Rabiya Jaffery
Updated: 2 July 2018
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Throughout the ages, Saudi Arabian women have achieved outstanding success in all fields, despite strict social and religious rules in public spaces. And now that the Kingdom is working on increasing female empowerment, more women than ever are making incredible strides.

Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel

Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel is one of the most globally renowned Saudi women, and has spoken on platforms that she has shared with the likes of President Bill Clinton, Queen Rania of Jordan and the British royal family.

The princess wasn’t born into royalty – she married Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal in 2008 after interviewing him for a school newspaper. She became a household name almost instantly, but Al-Taweel was one of the first Saudi royal women to embrace the public eye at a time where most chose to remain completely private.

Today, Al-Taweel continues to embrace her platform, even following her 2013 divorce from Bin Talal. She works on a number of high-profile advocacy and charity causes, and is a vocal advocate for women’s rights. She has been involved with a wide range of humanitarian interests across Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world, opening an orphanage in Burkina Faso and spearheading humanitarian trips to many countries, including Pakistan and Somalia.

She is also a major fashion icon and was considered among the best dressed at Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding by many fashion magazines.

Princess Ameerah is involved in major philanthropic and humanitarian causes
© House of Saud

Safia Binzagr

Safia Binzagr is a Saudi Arabian artist who first rose to prominence in the 60s, and is currently one of the most influential people on the country’s creative scene.

Several decades ago, Saudi Arabian art had not had much international exposure and Binzagr, who earned a degree from St Martin’s School of Art in 1965, was pursuing her career in Jeddah. She quickly began gaining mainstream attention for her paintings that centred around typical Saudi life and culture, from wedding customs to traditional architecture.

In 1968, when gender segregation was enforced more strictly than today, she became the first Saudi woman to have a solo exhibition of her work. Due to the segregation laws, Safeya was not able to attend her first solo exhibition, sending men from her family to represent her.

She continued painting, and became one of the driving forces of Jeddah’s growing art scene. Today, she is the only Saudi artist to have a museum to her name.

King Juan Carlos of Spain attends an exhibition by Safia Binzagr in 2008 
© Sarat Safia Binzagr

Manal al-Sharif

Manal al-Sharif is a Saudi Arabian women’s rights activist and author, best known for being one of the central figures in the fight for Saudi women to achieve the right to drive.

While women in Saudi Arabia had previously campaigned for the issue, Manal’s protest caught everyone’s attention. She was one of a group of women who started a Facebook group in 2011 named ‘Women2Drive’, which gained hundreds of thousands of supporters after Manal was arrested when a video of her driving was posted online. She was released on bail a little over a week later on the condition that she not drive again and not speak to the media about Women2Drive.

After losing her job in Saudi Arabia, Manal moved to Australia, where she is still an active critic of the Kingdom’s strict gender policies.

Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud

Princess Reema is a member of the royal family, an entrepreneur, a philanthropist and one of the most prominent women’s activists in Saudi Arabia.

The princess was raised in the US – where her father was the ambassador of Saudi Arabia for nearly two decades – and moved back to the Kingdom in 2005 to join the corporate world. Not only has she been involved in running the Saudi branches of major luxury brands such as Harvey Nichols, Donna Karan and DKNY, she has also launched a number of companies herself.

She is most known for the role she plays in encouraging Saudi women to join the workforce. She has introduced incentives such as childcare availability and, when women could not drive, a transport stipend in her companies to encourage more women to work.

She is currently involved in getting more Saudi women involved in sports and was responsible for organising the first female basketball game in the Kingdom, in 2017.

Raha Moharrak

In all her interviews, Raha Moharrak talks about how she always knew – as a young girl growing up in Jeddah – that she would never let the constraints of societal expectations (both local and Western) hold her back.

When she was 25, she decided to join her friend who had signed up to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The most difficult part, she has frequently stated, was not the training or the actual climb – but convincing her her friends and family that it was safe. Not only did Moharrak successfully reach the top of Kilimanjaro a year later, she went on to become the first Arab woman to reach the top of Mount Everest, in 2013. And that’s not all: she soon managed to conquer the Seven Summits, climbing the highest mountain in each continent.

Raha now speaks on a variety of platforms and panels about women’s empowerment, is encouraging the development of sports programmes for women in the country and has taken up a number of philanthropic causes.

Just 32, she is also a major social media influencer with tens of thousands of followers and is currently working on her memoir.

Mishaal Ashemimry

By all counts, women make up a significantly lower portion of positions in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields globally because of wide-ranging social barriers.

But women worldwide are also continuously breaking these glass walls, and Mishaal Ashemimry is one of them. Ashemimry is an aerospace engineer who has recently become the first Saudi woman to join the US space agency NASA. Ashemimry has said in interviews that her fascination with space first started when she’d look up at the stars in the Saudi desert as a kid. The interest in space only got stronger as she grew older and she decided to do her bachelors in aerospace engineering and applied mathematics, followed by a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering in 2007.

Since then, she has contributed to 22 rocket programmes, including designing a rocket engine for the Mars mission for NASA. Both the US Central Command and the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information congratulated her when she joined NASA and praised her for becoming a role model to women. She is also the CEO of a US-based company that sends small satellites into orbit in cost-effective ways.

#space entrepreneurship panel at #aerospace_summit #uae #abudhabi

A post shared by Mishaal Ashemimry (@mashemimry) on

Haifaa al-Mansour

Haifaa al-Mansour is one of Saudi Arabia’s best-known film directors and has been involved in the production and direction of a lot of award-winning films, many of which tackle topics that have long been considered taboo.

Her documentary, Woman Without Shadows, discusses what it is like being a woman in the Arab world and has been played at over a dozen international film festivals, winning several awards.

In 2012, Haifaa made international headlines with her movie Wadjda, the first ever full-length film to have been made in Saudi Arabia, which went on to receive worldwide critical acclaim. She has mentioned that, while shooting the film in Riyadh, she’d stay behind in a van and communicate with her crew through walkie-talkies so as not to violate Saudi rules on gender segregation in public spaces.

Not only was the film loved by Western and local audiences alike, it quickly made al-Mansour the unofficial ambassador for pushing for fewer restrictions on films in Saudi Arabia, a country where cinemas were banned for over 35 years. The movie was also selected as the Saudi Arabian entry for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars that year, the first time Saudi Arabia ever submitted a film to the awards.

Haifa al-Mansour at the premiere of Wadjdah 
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