RIYADH: Sarah Al-Tamimi, the Human Rights Commission’s deputy for international cooperation and vice chair of the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking, is a shining example of women’s empowerment and leadership in modern Saudi Arabia.
Wearing an intricate pink abaya and a welcoming smile, Al-Tamimi recently hosted Arab News at the Human Rights Commission in Riyadh for an all-access tour and an opportunity to discuss her illustrious career ahead of International Women’s Day.
Al-Tamimi has impressive credentials, holding a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Tufts University, Massachusetts, an MBA from MIT, and a master’s in public administration from the Harvard Kennedy School.
She previously worked at the Saudi Investment Authority, the Saudi Mission in Germany, and the Ministry of Media.
When Al-Tamimi began working for the Human Rights Commission in 2019, she was the only woman in her department. This is now no longer the case, she says proudly.
“For International Women’s Day, I would like to really celebrate and recognize every single woman — no matter which sector she works in, no matter what she does,” Al-Tamimi told Arab News.
“Because every contribution is a contribution and any woman who goes out there and contributes for herself economically — this has a tremendous impact, not only on her, but also her children, her family and the society. Every single woman is integral and is important, and plays a big role in Saudi Arabia.”
Since the Kingdom launched its Vision 2030 economic and social reform agenda, women’s participation in public life and all sectors of the economy has grown exponentially — helped along by the initiatives of the Human Rights Commission.
“The share of Saudi women in the labor force has increased 64 percent in just two years, to reach 33 percent — which is huge,” said Al-Tamimi.
“We have a dedicated committee that is focused on women’s rights and our board is composed of 50 percent women, and the Human Rights Commission consistently works hand in hand with partner organizations and government entities on various topics related to women to build on previous successes.”
Al-Tamimi’s main professional focus, however, is combatting human trafficking in the Gulf region, where governments have been waging campaigns against the smuggling and abuse of migrant laborors and sex workers.
“As Saudis, human rights are very much intrinsic to the fabric of the society. It is part of our Islamic tradition and culture. We’ve always had a culture of service and you can even see this through the nonprofits that are around.
“I think, as you see with Vision 2030, it has a lot of focus on fields that are extremely important for us. We are still signatories to many conventions. This is a priority. And we are consistently putting work into it.”
Al-Tamimi urges critics to visit Saudi Arabia to see how far the Kingdom has come in the defense and respect of human rights.
“I would invite a lot of people in the West to come to Saudi Arabia to witness it for themselves,” she said.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions and misperceptions that are really very outdated, and the best way to really judge a place is to come and experience it and see it. I very much look forward to more people coming here and witnessing and living through all the changes that we see.”
In particular, Al-Tamimi wants the world to recognize the progress made on women’s rights in the Kingdom.
“A myth that I’d like to quash about Saudi is myths dealing with women and women’s rights,” she said.
“Women are so empowered. They have really taken charge of their lives. The amount of sociocultural and economic changes and empowerment given to women nowadays has been immense.
“Not just women driving — which we all know about — but also women traveling, women taking custody of their children, women being able to be heads of households, women at the workplace, women dealing with retirement age, and a lot of different sectors opening up to women which were previously closed.”