Saudi Arabia appoints its first female ambassador to the U.S.: Princess Reema bint Bandar al Saud. She is set to replace Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz following the controversy surrounding the murder of a Washington Post journalist in Turkey at the Saudi consulate.
While her appointment to this office predates the murder of the journalist, she will have to deal with the aftermath of what many people are saying was a premeditated murder by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.
Princess Reema is part of the royal family and is somewhat radical for a Saudi Arabian representative. She is a vocal supporter of women’s rights, and a single mother of two. Princess Reema’s father was one of the previous ambassadors to the U.S. and, because of this, she grew up in Washington, D.C., graduating from George Washington University.
Princess Reema is known for her work with the Saudi General Sports Authority to promote women in sports throughout the kingdom. She focuses on inclusion and encouraging physical activity through physical education classes for girls as well as promoting a gender-integrated team at the Special Olympics. She’s also a CEO and co-founder of a series of day spas.
Having such an accomplished woman in a position of power in Saudi Arabia is somewhat shocking, despite the country’s plans to move women’s rights forward.
In Saudi Arabia, women still need a male guardian’s permission to make decisions like traveling, marrying, filing a police report, and getting out of jail.
Minor adjustments to Saudi Arabian rules now allow women to drive, join the military, access basic healthcare and education, as well as own businesses. In fact, many women in Saudi Arabia are now enrolling in colleges abroad and coming back to work in Saudi Arabia, a plus for the economy.
Reema spoke in support of this advancement. She said, “Yes—we would’ve liked to see it sooner, but the fact that we are doing it today for me, absolutely, it’s wonderful.”
However, this is a one drop in an enormous bucket for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. It is well-known that the Human Rights Commission is investigating women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia who were imprisoned and described being tortured.
Even more damning is a report released by the World Economic Forum that ranked Saudi Arabia among the ten worst countries for women to live in 2018. The forum bases their assessment of 149 countries on economic opportunity, political empowerment, education options, health, and survival.
In this highly conservative country, a female ambassador could be the role model these women need.
In fact, Saudi Arabia has a goal for economic and social reform through the plan known as “Saudi Vision 2030,” which focuses on rebranding the country as a tolerant place for everyone to follow their dreams and create more opportunities for all.
Princess Reema is just beginning in her role, but can hopefully move this vision forward.
As she said late last year, “As a woman in government, my role is actually to keep highlighting the issues that will help us move forward holistically, not just for an elite community.”
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