Four years ago, two female Saudi athletes, Sarah Attar and Wojdan Shahrkhani, made history in the London Olympics by competing as the first Saudi women in the history of games.
Fortunately, it didn’t stop there. Progress has been slow but it seems to be there. A concrete action in this regard is the recent appointment of Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud as the vice president for women’s affairs of the General Sports Authority in Saudi Arabia.
This year, four Saudi women will compete in the Rio Olympics: Sarah Attarand and Cariman Abu al-Jadail (track and field), Wujud Fahmi (Judoka) and Lubna al-Omair (fencer).
Princess Reema, an entrepreneur, social activist, former CEO and a single mother, has been a beacon of hope for the women in her country for decades. The 41-year-old member of the royal family has spent a large part of her life paving the way for Saudi women.
Though born in the capital city of Riyadh, Reema spent much of her childhood in the U.S. where her father was the Saudi ambassador for 22 years. She earned a degree in museum studies from George Washington University.
But unlike many of the shopaholic socialites of her clan, she is an ambitious businesswoman and an ardent worker for women’s rights in the conservative kingdom.
One of her initiatives, 10KSA, which brought together thousands of women in Riyadh to close health education gaps and change the breast cancer conversation, was verified by Guinness World Records.
#Repost @4conceptstore with @repostapp ・・・ At the tail end of last year 8,264 Saudi women came together to set a Guinness World Record by forming the World’s Largest Human Awareness Ribbon at the Princess Noura University in Riyadh. Visit the 4 blog to read more about the record breaking initiative: thenumber4.com/blog #10ksa #saudiarabia #girlpower #cancerawareness #blog @join10ksa
She is a supporter of empowering Saudi women in the workplace and in the community. Now, she’ll do that in sports, too.
“I didn’t grow up with the mental barriers of ‘I can’t’ or ‘I shouldn’t’… [so] you appear to be daring when you’re just doing what you should,” she said in one of her interviews. “If someone says stop, then you stop. So far, nobody has said stop.”
Besides empowerment, Princess Reema also believes more participation from women in sports would help create "250,000 jobs."
“It’s time to include women in sports for a healthier society and a productive economy,” she said while addressing the culture and technology event, MiSK Global Forum, in Riyadh.
“We — especially women — must incorporate physical fitness in our lives. Our role is to allow this nation more opportunities for physical fitness and health and to create healthy citizens. We’re a partner in the health sector,” she said.
Women in Saudi Arabia are bound by strict rules but things are progressing for them.
Physical education is not in the curriculum for girls in public schools. However, private female-only gyms and sports clubs are growing in popularity in the country's major cities.
Saudi Arabia's largest female university in Riyadh — the Princess Nora University — also boasts a state-of-the-art sports complex with a swimming pool, gym, indoor running track and sprawling outdoor soccer fields.
The princess has a unique way of fighting for the rights of her countrywomen. In her own words, “I don't want to knock a wall down. I just want to widen the doorway.”