Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan
LONDON - Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud has been appointed Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, assigning her to lead arguably Riyadh’s most important diplomatic mission and making history by her becoming the kingdom’s first female ambassador.
“I will work with God’s permission to serve my country, its leaders and all its children and I will spare no effort to that end.” Princess Reema wrote on Twitter following the February 23 announcement in a royal decree.
With the war in Yemen and the fallout from the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul continuing, Princess Reema’s appointment comes at a testing time in Saudi-US relations.
Born in 1975, Princess Reema is the daughter of Saudi Arabia’s most-well known diplomat and its longest-serving ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.
During her father’s 1983-2005 posting in Washington, Princess Reema received a bachelor of arts degree in museum studies from George Washington University in 1999. She worked in the field briefly before returning to Saudi Arabia.
Before starting her career in public service, Princess Reema was a successful entrepreneur, philanthropist and a well-known advocate for women’s rights.
In 2011, as CEO of Alfa International, which owns the kingdom’s branch of Harvey Nichols, Princess Reema broke what was then a social taboo by hiring women in the kingdom’s retail sector. She also provided travel accommodations and a day-care centre for working mothers.
These incentives were at her own cost and were much ahead of general working conditions for women in Saudi Arabia.
In an interview with business magazine Fast Company, Princess Reema highlighted some of her motivations in championing female employment.
“You cannot have half of your population not working,” she told the magazine, which named her Most Creative Person of the Year for 2014. “The second a woman is responsible for her own finances, she’ll want to explore more of the world for herself and become less dependent.”
She was named under-secretary for women affairs at the kingdom’s General Authority for Sports in August 2016 and worked alongside the Ministry of Education to establish a sports education programme for girls in school as well as pushing for the participation of women in sports competitions.
Princess Reema’s philanthropic endeavours include her work as a founding member of the Zahra Breast Cancer Awareness Association. The princess has been involved in several high-profile initiatives to increase general awareness among Saudi women about the illness.
Princess Reema led a team of Saudi women on a climb up Mount Everest in 2012 as a part of a breast cancer awareness campaign called “A Woman’s Journey: Destination Mount Everest.”
Princess Reema’s breast cancer awareness initiatives placed the kingdom in the Guinness Book of Records on two occasions. In 2010, 4,000 Saudi women created the largest human breast cancer ribbon, in Jeddah. In 2015, another initiative by Princess Reema broke the same record with the participation of 8,264 women.
That event coincided with 20 Saudi women winning seats in municipal elections, a first in the kingdom’s history.