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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Princess Reema: driving is not the 'be all' of Saudi women's rights

Saudi official says 'quick wins' for women are just part of a bigger vision

Princess Reema bint Bandar at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC. Ian Timberlake / AFP Photo
Princess Reema bint Bandar at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC. Ian Timberlake / AFP Photo

Saudi Arabia is working to address deeper issues than the recent "quick wins" on the path to greater women's rights, one of the Kingdom's leading female officials said.

"These are things that are quick wins. We know we can do them - women in stadiums, women driving - that's great, but women driving is not the end all, be all of women's rights," Princess Reema bint Bandar told the Atlantic Council in Washington.

In 2016 the Princess was appointed Vice-President for Development and Planning at Saudi Arabian General Sports Authority, the first woman to serve in a senior post in the Authority, which is the equivalent of a government ministry.

As part of a wide-ranging social and economic reform, King Salman announced in September that Saudi women would be allowed to drive from June this year.

The Kingdom, the world's only country where women cannot get behind the wheel, then tackled the male bastion of football, letting women into stadiums to watch matches for the first time in January.

Princess Reema said deeper issues are still being worked on including "a woman feeling safe in her home" and having any career path open to her in a traditionally male-dominated society.

"Those are things that will be more dynamic in moving the conversation for women's rights than just getting her driving," she said.

"Domestic violence is so critical. I promise you we really are working on it."

The Sports Authority is trying to get more Saudis exercising as part of efforts to build a healthier population. Princess Reema said traditional clothing worn by Saudi women will be no hindrance to women's exercise.

She said she knows of three companies making abayas for running and two more that have robes designed for cycling.

"Innovation will come. It has to come," she said. "Guess what, I'm wearing trousers today."

The Kingdom sent four women as "wild cards" to the 2016 Olympics. Princess Reema said that she will be happy when one gets to a future Olympics "on her own merit ... however long it takes."