RIYADH: With eloquence and grace, Princess Reema bint Bandar touched on paramount topics at the recently concluded World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.
Raised in the US and the daughter of an ambassador, Princess Reema is no stranger to diplomacy. An enlightened soul she has always been, but gracious with her kindness and smiles. A philanthropist, motivator, and President of the Saudi Federation for Community Sports, Princess Reema has an impressive resume.
At the WEF, her words penetrated the heart of every Saudi. She echoed their thoughts and mirrored their feelings. Princess Reema spoke distinctively and clearly but, most of all, wholeheartedly, talking about gender equality and the disparaging word “but.”
“Once we exhibit change you come to us with cynicism. I don’t know how to explain how destructive that is. We are so thrilled and excited and the article ends up: ‘This was so fabulous BUT’… why but? Do you say that to anyone else? Is it because we are in the Middle East and there is a history of what you did not feel assimilated to your values? Please understand the values we have are different. They are not right or wrong and they should be honored for what they are.”
The truth is, Saudi youth are stuck in limbo. No matter how hard Saudis have tried to progress toward the future, we are pulled back with skepticism and relentless criticism. Even before Vision 2030, we had massive amounts of youths working relentlessly to put Saudi Arabia back on the map. In every field, we find remarkable youths.
As Saudi women, we feel this especially. Princess Reema emphasized the change that Saudi Arabia is witnessing, claiming: “A woman has a choice to breathe, a woman has a choice to dream and she can take action. Why? Because of the changes the ministers were talking about.”
This year Saudi Arabia has allowed women to sit behind the wheel and take hold of their destiny. In an unprecedented royal decree announced on Dec. 27, King Salman said women will be able to drive in June 2018. It came as a shock and a joy to many. This decree is in line with the Kingdom’s vision to help women achieve their goals and excel in the workforce without hindrance and with fewer obstacles.
“That ‘but’ is so detrimental to the women I work with, and the women I try to inspire, but I will remind you what I remind them: We are not working for anyone outside this nation. We are working for this nation, for the women of our nation, for the men of our nation, for the evolution of where we need to be, and that is how we will benefit you and that is how we will be global.”
Commenting on Princess Reema’s views as expressed at the WEF, Dr. Hoda Al-Hellaisi, a member of the Shoura Council, said: “I was really impressed by her participation in the panel.”
Al-Hellaisi said anyone who gets the opportunity to meet members of the foreign media should highlight the fact that the Western media tend to focus on our shortcomings. “It is high time the Western media focused on our achievements. We are a country that is only 80 years old, and we, as a nation, have achieved much during this time.”
She said every country has different social values, which should be respected and be taken into consideration without being judgmental. Al-Hellaisi said: “It’s easy to criticize.”
The Shoura member stressed the need to allow all nations to move forward at their own pace within their respective traditional and religious framework.
Al-Helaissi said: “Our country has its own value system, and it’s unfair that we are judged through their lenses and not ours.”
The Vision 2030 has enabled many youths and encouraged them to put their feet forward and work together to make the Kingdom prosperous in all ways. From weaning Saudi Arabia’s economy off oil revenues, to supporting small- and medium-sized enterprises. Princess Reema said at the WEF: “Human capital is the new currency.”
She added that the crown prince is vocal and adamant about helping his nation, that his actions portray him saying: “This is your nation, you are my people. What do you need, how can I help you?”
This year at the WEF, Saudi participation was exceptional and made its mark through many of its speakers and attendees. The excitement and ambition of the Saudi youth have escalated for the world to see, for their achievements speak volumes.