Some of Saudi Arabia's citizens took it upon themselves to push for change and modernisation. Here's some of their accomplishments
8 January 2017| Last updated on 20 September 2017
Saudi Arabia has been subject to a lot of scrutiny in terms of its conservative laws, especially concerning women. Over the past year, some small steps were taken to try and stir the debate, such as limiting the powers of the “religious police” and making it mandatory for Saudi women to verbally consent to marriage.
On a wider platform, some Saudis have taken it upon themselves to push for change and make a statement.
Mahmoud Sabbagh – Saudi film entry in the Oscars for the second time ever
While cinemas aren’t allowed in the Kingdom, that hasn’t stopped some from creating Saudi movies. Saudi director Mahmoud Sabbagh is helping his country’s film industry to emerge.
He directed the film “Barakah Meets Barakah” and it was submitted under the Best Foreign Language Film category. While it didn’t make the short-list, it was the country’s second ever entry at the Academy Awards and it amassed a lot of attention at other film festivals.
The film plot revolves around a young couple in Jeddah who struggle through societal segregation constraints and try to find a way to go on a date.
Ms Saffaa – Social media campaign for women’s rights
In 2012, Ms Saffaa, a Saudi artist, decided to move to Sydney on a Saudi government scholarship to pursue her PhD. As per the Kingdom’s laws, she needed to live with a male guardian who has to supervise her while abroad.
In an interview with PBS, she explained that the government asked her on multiple occasions to prove that there was indeed a male guardian present with her. She was around 31 years old at the time.
Feeling humiliated and dehumanized, she decided to create art that was influenced by this moment. The art focused on male guardianship laws in KSA with a message stating “I am my own guardian.”
In 2016, her work became popular after a woman in Saudi launched a social media campaign to fight for women’s rights. That’s when the hashtag #IAmMyOwnGuardian started coming to life and a large number of people started supporting Saffaa.
Photo: Twitter @MsSaffaa
Kariman Abduljadayel – First Saudi female Olympic sprinter
In the 2016 Olympic Games, Kariman Abduljadayel became the first woman from Saudi Arabia to compete in the 100 metre race. She placed seventh in the preliminaries, making her unable to qualify for the next round, but her participation was an accomplishment on its own.
Abduljadayel garnered a lot of international media attention and social media support.
The first Saudi female track athlete was Sarah Attar, who competed in the 800-metre race in London.
Prince Fahad Al-Saud – A Saudi superwoman comes to life
Saudi Girls Revolution (SGR) was launched by Saudi Prince Fahad Al-Saud. SGR is a comic book and video game set in a post-apocalyptic world and portrays heroines and powerful Saudi girls. They fight mutants, ride motorcycles and have absolute freedom.
The Prince launched SGR in an attempt to push an intellectual revolution that would alter the current perceptions in the country. SGR sends the message that female resilience and empowerment are important and need to be present in reality.
Photo: Youtube @New Arab Media Ma3am
Majed Alesa – Music video portraying Saudi women defying stereotypes
A music video titled Hwages, which means obstacles or barriers, went viral on social media and now has over 3.5 million views. The video, which is directed by Majd Alesa, shows Saudi women skating, playing basketball, singing and dancing.
At the beginning of the video, there are three women wearing a niqab who get into a car with a young boy driver. This addresses the Kingdom’s controversial ban on women driving.
The song is based on a lower quality video from 2014 with the same lyrics, but this video takes it a step further. The lyrics include verses that roughly translates as “May all men go extinct as they've caused us mental illnesses.”
The video was produced by 8ies Studios, a Saudi production company.
Mariam Saleh Binladen – First woman to swim 101 miles of the Thames River
Mariam Saleh Binladen set a world record as the first female and third person in recent history to successfully finish the 101 miles (162.5 km) swim of the United Kingdom’s Thames River.
She completed the swim over 10 days, from June 3rd until June 12th. Mariam is a Saudi dentist and by doing this, she hoped to inspire more women to take part in athletics. She has done a lot of humanitarian work as well, such as creating the Dr Mariam Dental Clinic in Jordan’s Al Azraq refugee camp, making it the first facility in the region to provide free dental care.