Women’s rights advocate to head Saudi women’s sports body

Sunday 07/08/2016
Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud (Photo: Arab News)

LONDON - Saudi Arabia has set up a new government body to over­see women’s sports, a pos­sible indication of easing restrictions on female ath­letes in the conservative kingdom.
What made the announcement more ground-breaking was the ap­pointment of Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud, a successful entre­preneur, philanthropist and well-known advocate of women’s rights in the kingdom, as undersecretary for women affairs at the General Au­thority for Sports.
Physical education is not taught in Saudi state schools for girls, but is part of the curriculum in private schools attended by children of the more affluent in Saudi society.
The news comes as Saudi Ara­bia sent four female athletes to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Saudi women first competed in the Olympics in the 2012 London Games.
The female athletes represent­ing Saudi Arabia at Rio are: Lubna al-Omair (fencing), Wujud Fahmi (judo), Sarah Attar (800-metre run) and Cariman Abu al-Jadail (100-me­tre sprint).
Reema, 41, who is the daughter of the kingdom’s longest-serving am­bassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, is a graduate of the George Washington University in the United States with a degree in museum studies.
She has had a distinguished career in both business and charity work. She is a member of the global policy advisory board of Uber, a firm in which Saudi Arabia’s Public Invest­ment Fund recently invested $3.5 billion and that has given women in Saudi Arabia more freedom to ma­noeuvre around the country where they are banned from driving.
In 2011, as chief executive officer of Alfa International, which owns the kingdom’s branch of Harvey Nichols department store, Reema broke what was considered a social taboo by hiring women in the Saudi retail sector for the first time. She also provided travel accommoda­tion and a day-care centre for work­ing mothers.
In an interview with business magazine Fast Company, Reema highlighted some of her motiva­tions in championing female em­ployment in Saudi Arabia. “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 added.
Reema’s philanthropic endeav­ours are also well-documented. A founding member of the Riyadh-based Zahra Breast Cancer Aware­ness Association, the princess has been involved in a number of high-profile programmes to increase awareness among Saudi women about the disease.
In 2012, Reema led a team of Saudi women on a climbing trip of Mount Everest as a part of a breast cancer awareness campaign.
Reema’s initiatives also won the kingdom mention in the Guinness World Records on two occasions, thanks to the work of Saudi women. In 2010, 4,000 Saudi women in the Red Sea city of Jeddah created the largest human breast cancer ribbon. Five years later, another initiative by Reema broke the same record with the participation of 8,264 women.