Sociologist says women in Gulf kingdom continue to face challenges but are slowly gaining influence in society.
A Saudi Arabian sociologist aims to counter stereotypes about her country with a coffee table book profiling successful Saudi women, she said on the eve of International Women’s Day.
Misperceptions about the kingdom’s women have distorted their image in Western countries, the author and photographer, Mona AlMunajjed, said late Monday during a ceremony at the French ambassador’s residence. “We are facing challenges but we are succeeding,” she said at the book signing for her work Saudi Women: A Celebration of Success.
The large-format book features her interviews with 40 Saudi women from a variety of fields, alongside their photographs. AlMunajjed said she chose her subjects, in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, because they are “pioneering women.”
Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women, who must cover themselves in black from head to toe when they appear in public. Women must get permission from male family members to travel, work or marry, and Saudi Arabia is the world’s only country where women cannot drive.
A slow expansion of their rights began under the late king Abdullah who in 2013 appointed women to the Shura Council, which advises the cabinet. He also announced that women would be able to participate in municipal elections.
Their first ballot as voters and candidates occurred last December, when about 20 were elected to local councils and several others were appointed.
AlMunajjed said Saudi women have assumed prominent positions in government, business, journalism and other areas. “They are outstanding, successful and very influential,” said the author, who has worked with United Nations agencies.
Arabian Business named her among the top 10 most powerful Arab women in 2013.
In a conservative country founded little more than 80 years ago, change will come, but slowly, she said, noting that women make up more than half of the kingdom’s university students. Social reform “can come only gradually and only from within their own society,” AlMunajjed said.
That includes driving. AlMunajjed said the message on that topic from the women she interviewed is: “They do not believe in forcing things… change will happen soon, and it is just a matter of time.”