HRH Princess Lamia: Saudi Women Have More Rights Than They Realize
11 August 2017 | 10:57 am
HRH Princess Lamia: Saudi Women have More Rights Than They Realize
BY: NICOLE SAWYER
HRH Princess Lamia Al Saud is the Secretary General and member of the Board of Trustees at Alwaleed Philanthropies.
In a deeply conservative culture, the women of Saudi Arabia are as mysterious to outsiders as the veils which mask their faces. Who are these women? What inspires them? What is life like behind the veil? Are they as confined as the lens of mainstream media so often portrays, or are they bold, beautiful, empowered women who are completely misunderstood?
Recently, a young Saudi woman named Khulood, was detained after a controversial video went viral, depicting her wearing a miniskirt, walking around the conservative Najd region.
The model’s snapchat post sparked outrage across the Islamic kingdom and mass opinion was clearly divided; some traditionalists calling for her arrest, others jumping to defend her bravery.
I had the rare chance to sit down with a lead reformer on women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, Her Royal Highness Princess Lamia Al Saud, granddaughter of King Saud bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. We discussed the evolving role of women in Saudi Arabia.
The West views Saudi women as oppressed because they are segregated from men in public, banned from driving cars, and prevented from leaving the house without permission from their male guardians, but Princess Lamia tells a different story.
“These women are warriors. I believe the Saudi women is most powerful women on earth because she is really, really, really strong and she believes in herself and she knows her capability. They’re very stubborn and they know exactly what they want,” she said.
Princess Lamia explained how it’s not technically “against the law” for women to drive or socialize with men in public that are not related to them, rather these rules follow “tribal ethics and deep-rooted religious beliefs” that have been in place for centuries.
For the purpose of progress, she says people shouldn’t judge what they don’t fully understand.
“You have to accept the other as is, even if you don’t agree,” said Princess Lamia.
“You have to understand their culture, their tradition before you judge, before you say whether there is a violation, whether it is right or wrong. This is what we depend on to create understanding and tolerance,” explained the princess who serves as secretary-general at Alwaleed Philanthropies, the charitable organization where Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest people, pledged to donate his entire $32 billion fortune towards initiatives to combat disease, poverty and the empowerment of women.
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest people, pledges to donate his entire $32 billion fortune towards initiatives to combat disease, poverty and empower women.
Prince Alwaleed is an advocate of female freedom in the Saudi peninsula and financed the training for the first female commercial airline pilot, Hanadi Zakaria al Hindi. He said at her graduation that he is “in full support of Saudi ladies working in all fields.”
Hanadi Zakaria al Hindi, First Saudi Female Pilot Breaks Glass Ceiling for Other Women
Princess Lamia applauds her young country of 85-years for making efforts to create an environment conducive to working women. “50 years ago, Riyadh was a small village and women didn’t have that much of an opportunity or even the awareness of the role in the community,” she said.
Today, the Saudi government is taking steps to inspire women to enter the workforce as it seeks to be more economically dynamic and aligned with the developed world.
In the past decade, tens of thousands of Saudi women have studied abroad through government scholarship programs. King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the country’s top advisory body, the Shura Council and granted women the right to vote in 2015.
Still, Princess Lamia doesn’t agree with all the rules enforced by the religious establishment, she’d like to see the guardian law regulated and more ladies in leadership roles.
She and a team of ten women who make up the board of trustees for Alwaleed Philanthropies are working to empower thousands of women by giving them career training and educating them about their legal rights through the Wa’iyah Initiative.
They hope to create a model that can serve as a roadmap for others to encourage tolerance and openness for women’s rights.
Princess Lamia and ten women make up the board of trustees for Alwaleed Philanthropies.
“Even me as a secretary general when we first started this initiative, I was very excited, I was scared and shocked. I didn’t know many of my rights as a woman and a Saudi citizen,” Princess Lamia said.
“Through Wa’iyah, we’re trying to create awareness and make the women understand their rights. We have a lot of rights that they do not understand. Of course, you heard in the media about guardianship. Well it’s true we do have a problem with that. There’s a lot of girls that suffer which I would never deny. But you cannot fix it or even fight it. You have to understand, you have a legal and religious way to convince the society here. The old generation says the guardian, your father your brother is your protector, he is not abusing you,” Princess Lamia explained.
“That’s what makes our work harder. You’re not only working with general society beliefs, no it’s more deeper and more stronger, we are going to the roots. You need to know how to crack it,” she said.
“I would never ever want to be apart from my family, or not having the blessing of my father or brother. Even you, I don’t think any person in the world would not love to have the blessing of their family. But I would say [The guardian law] it needs a guideline, it needs a rule, where to stop. Where’s it’s okay and where it’s not ok.”
It’s human nature to fear what we don’t understand. But as Saudi Arabia works towards change in their country, never before has it been so important for Westerners to be open minded.
The princess shared her views on how far her 85-year old country has come regarding women’s role in society, the Trump administration’s travel ban, the refugee crisis and much more.