Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 15 December 2019

West has it wrong on Saudi women's rights, says princess

Saudi Princess Lamia bint Majid says at World Tolerance Summit that women in her country have rights not given to those in West

Princess Lamia bint Majid Al Saud, secretary general of Alwaleed Philanthropies, says Saudi women are misrepresented in western media. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Princess Lamia bint Majid Al Saud, secretary general of Alwaleed Philanthropies, says Saudi women are misrepresented in western media. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The West should stop portraying Saudi Arabian women as victims and could learn a lot from the kingdom about gender equality, Princess Lamia bint Majid said.

The Saudi princess said western media constantly portrayed women in her country in a negative light. But she said they had rights that women in the West did not.

“The West always thinks that women in my country are vulnerable and not being given their rights,” Princess Lamia told The National on the sidelines of the World Tolerance Summit in Dubai on Wednesday.

“I remember being in a meeting in the UK recently where they were discussing the problem of unequal pay between men and women and I couldn’t help but smile to myself.

“Men and women have equal pay in Saudi. If someone is earning even one riyal less than someone doing the same job they can sue.

“That’s not the case in the West, despite the fact they’ve been talking about it for years.”

The topic of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia was cast into the international spotlight last year when the country declared it would allow women to drive for the first time.

The West always thinks that women in my country are vulnerable and not being given their rights

Princess Lamia, Alwaleed Philanthropies

It was also announced, this year, that women would no longer need the permission of a male guardian to travel freely or obtain a passport in Saudi Arabia.

But Princess Lamia said the rights of women in her country went beyond those.

She said the West was fixated on issues such as national dress rather than looking at what was taking place in the region.

“I remember meeting with a newspaper in London and they were talking passionately about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia,” Princess Lamia said.

“I asked them, ‘Have you ever been to Saudi Arabia or actually spoken to any women from Saudi Arabia?’ and they said they hadn’t.”

She said people should look at the good work being done in the kingdom rather than focus on cultural differences.

“We would love them to put the good before the bad and see where we’re coming from,” she said.

Princess Lamia is secretary general of Alwaleed Philanthropies, a Saudi organisation set up to empower women, fight poverty and offer support to those in need worldwide.

On Wednesday, she said many cultural misunderstandings stemmed from countries believing they knew what was best for others.

“Everyone feels superior to each other," she said. "In Europe they felt superior in political arenas while we felt we were superior from a financial perspective.

“Everyone has been very stubborn to accept they can gain by learning from others and working together.”

The summit also heard how tolerance was something that should not be taken for granted, especially in an era when fake news and hate speech were on the rise.

“We need to create a positive mindset to contain the rise of radicals,” said Dr Hubertus Hoffman, president of the Global Tolerance Initiative.

“Look what happened in Germany and the mistakes we made with radicals.

“Intolerance can ignite like a bushfire so it’s important we give young people the oxygen of free expression.

"We can’t suppress that as the costs of trying to recover from hate are enormous.”

Updated: November 14, 2019 04:11 AM

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