Saudi women can finally breathe in society

Hanan Al-Nufaie

I remember when I graduated from university three years ago. Almost everything was impossible for me as a female graduate dreaming to step into the labor market to pursue my dreams and be independent. That was because all jobs, except for teaching, were considered socially taboo. Women were stigmatized for all of their choices. Even breathing, if I may say so, was considered a shame at the time.

These illogical social norms and the misunderstood definitions of the role of men in the family unit have been passed on from one generation to the other. However, since the beginning of 2017, everything has dramatically changed in favor of women due to a very determined and young leader, Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, who came to power to empower women.

Women used to waste all of their energy in convincing their families or husbands to allow them to work in a field that they were passionate about, such as medicine or law. Despite the painful obstacles at home, if they were given permission to breathe and go to work, the majority of society would not accept them. I vividly remember the hashtags trending on social media in those days that defamed women and their reputation and doubted the morals of women who worked in mixed-gender settings. It was sad to see hashtags calling for men not to get married to female doctors just because there was mixing of genders in hospitals. The tragedy extended even to children aged 12 or 14 who spent all their time doubting their sisters and even mothers because they were taught to closely watch their female relatives and to catch them before they committed a sin or did something immoral.

In those days, teachers would stand in the doorway of their homes at the break of dawn waiting for the school bus as drivers would not wait for more than a few seconds. If the teacher missed the bus, then she would not be able to get to work, as she could not drive. I could easily write a book on how we struggled in those days.

Our lives as Saudi women have changed tremendously since the Crown Prince came to power with his new mindset and the willpower to reform society and develop a healthy Saudi Arabia where women are considered important. He has reinforced change and empowered women in all aspects. He believes in women and their capabilities. He has not waited to persuade people who have caused our society to lag behind the world for a very long time. He started by including women in his vision, mentioning that they will contribute to the Kingdom’s GDP. That gave women more value to be seen as individuals who have minds and education, and can productively add to the country’s economic growth.

This quickly pushed society to accept the change that has become an undeniable reality. Women are now working in positions they never thought they would be able to work in before, such as the Customs Department, in airports, in the police and the list goes on. The historic decree permitting women to drive has also led to strict legislation on harassing women.

What has been the outcome of these rapid changes? Women are now studying and working with fervor because they know they have a place in the Kingdom. Yes, women are finally being seen as first class human beings who have the right to live normal and healthy lifestyles. The number of women in work has significantly increased. Their presence in entertainment has also increased. They work, produce, volunteer and live comfortably.

However, I know there is still some resistance from a very limited number of men who cannot absorb the idea that they have no power to restrict the lives and rights of their female relatives, but the majority of Saudi society ignores them.

Women are extremely grateful for the change they are blissfully witnessing because we know we will never return to the misery of yesterday. The role played by our young Crown Prince in supporting us to become visible to the world is historic.

Hanan Al-Nufaie