‘Strong and ambitious’ Saudi women crucial to transforming the Kingdom

Hoda Al-Helaissi speaking on International Women’s Day at the RUSI think tank in London. (RUSI)
Updated 09 March 2018
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‘Strong and ambitious’ Saudi women crucial to transforming the Kingdom

LONDON: Empowering women is “crucial’’ to transforming Saudi Arabia into “a country that can compete globally on different levels,’’ Hoda Al-Helaissi, a member of the Shoura Council, said.
Speaking on International Women’s Day, she listed the rapid-fire reforms that are widening women’s roles in the Kingdom, but voiced frustration that international perceptions of Saudi women are still as “oppressed, subservient to and suffocated by men, uneducated, not allowed to work and inferior to her partner.’’
She said at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a UK think tank: “The stereotype of the Saudi woman is far from the truth. The Saudi woman has revealed herself to be a strong and ambitious individual, influencing and participating positively in society.’’
Describing the tendency in the west to blur the ’fine line’’ between religion and tradition, she emphasised that “it is not Islam that hinders progression of women.’’
“Much of what is seen by the west as being backwards and oppressive to women is based on traditions,’’ Al-Helaissi explained.
Describing women as vital in realising Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s ambitions for the Kingdom, she said: “A country’s true development can only come about... when it uses 100 percent of its human resources, male and female.’’
The make-up of Saudi society is shifting, she continued, paving the way for women to play a more active role in creating the country’s future.
Saudi Arabia is changing at a rate that “few countries have seen before ... but this change “must come from within’’ and not be imposed from outside, she added.


Not just four-wheelers, Saudi women want to hit the road on two-wheelers

Updated 49 min 21 sec ago
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Not just four-wheelers, Saudi women want to hit the road on two-wheelers

Riyadh: As the clock strikes 12 at midnight, the decades-old ban on women driving will be lifted in the Kingdom. What was unimaginable a few years ago has now become a reality.
Several women with foreign licenses have already obtained Saudi driving licenses and those who do not know driving are making full use of the infrastructure set in place to help them learn.
From Sunday onward, women behind the wheel will be a common sight on the Kingdom’s roads. People should also prepare themselves to see women revving motorbikes as well.
Opting for the two-wheelers gives many women a sense of empowerment. Alia Abu Dhuhair, a Saudi banker from Tabuk, told Arab News that she had been passionate about bikes since her childhood.
“I love motorcycles because it reminds me of the good old days when we used to go to the beach. We used to ride them there.”
“It made me feel happy and free. I wish to ride a motorcycle instead of a car. It is faster, without any parking hassles and one feels free and cool,” she said.
Shahad Al-Harbi, a Saudi marketing student in Chicago, is also a bike lover, who finds biking an adrenaline-pumping activity. She said she had tried riding a bike with one of her friends in Chicago. “It was really an amazing experience.”
Both the Saudi bike lovers agree that Harley-Davidson motorcycles are the best in the world. As a matter of fact, Harley-Davidson is the dream of every person passionate about motorbikes.
“The brand is also very popular here in Saudi Arabia. Harley-Davidson is special because of its unique design, strength and luxury,” said Abu Dhuhair.
Both believe that their parents might not encourage them to ride motorbikes mainly because of safety concerns.
Al-Harbi said: “My parents are very protective and I do not think they will be supportive of the idea. They may feel uneasy because of the stories we hear about accidents involving motorbikes.”
“I believe Saudi women will prove to be good motorcyclists because they drive cautiously and strictly follow traffic rules,” she added.
In Saudi Arabia and many other countries, it is mandatory to obtain a license to ride a bike. Like elsewhere, there are training institutes in the Kingdom.
Wael bin Huraib, director of the Bikers Skill Institute, told Arab News about the institute and what programs it offers to women.
“We train people who are passionate about. All of our instructors are well experienced and certified,” he said.
The Riyadh-based Bikers Skill Institute is considered the first institute to conduct structured motorbike training in Saudi Arabia. Established in 2011, the institute mainly focuses on safety through skills and offers courses, such as the Basic Motorcycle Riding, Smart Riding, Top Gun, Motogymkhana, Off-Road Trainings and Kids Motorcycle Schools. It not only offers training to males but has also designed special courses for women.
Huraib said: “The females’ section is well equipped and has female trainers. The courses comply with international standards and generally consist of two parts — theory and field training.”
Harley-Davidson has been operating in Saudi Arabia since 2004. Initially, it started operations from Riyadh but over time it has expanded to other cities such as Jeddah and Alkhobar.
The CEO of Harley Davidson in Saudi Arabia, Mishal Al-Mutlaq, said: “We care about the safety of our clients so we focus on the safety features of our motorcycles. These days, the number of women visiting our stores has increased. We have brought in feminine colors that will be appreciated more by females. A motorcycle is just like a car. Its features and engine have nothing to do with genders. Women can drive all kinds of Harley-Davidson motorcycles like their male counterparts.”
Harley-Davidson is famous for organizing events like motorbike rallies, especially for its members.
When asked about the possibility of organizing such an event in the Kingdom, he said: “In the near future, we might consider a special event for females and hire females in our stores as trainers and in the sales department. We use to have female employees in the female accessories section. We are planning to focus on that more.”
“Today the store does not only have motorcycles but also accessories, souvenirs and clothes for females so we are used to seeing females in the store buying things from us.”
The Saudi Driving School in Princess Noura University also offers a motorbike driver’s license. As its website says, the requirements for obtaining a motorbike license are simple. “The candidates must be 16 or older, unlike the private driver’s license, where the applicants must be 18 or older. To obtain a motorbike driver’s license, the applicant also needs to bring written permission from a guardian if she is under 18, along with official documents like IDs and photos.