Saudi National Day: Female leaders excel in rapidly changing kingdom

Saudi women are shattering glass ceilings, while juggling roles in various industries

Safi, a 26-year-old Saudi physician. AFP
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Saudi women are working in many roles across the world, breaking glass ceilings, while paving the way for the next generation, female entrepreneurs and business leaders have told The National.

On Saudi National Day, we spoke to women in various industries who shared their journeys in the changing kingdom.

Women breaking business barriers

Rana Zumai juggles two lead roles in vastly different industries. While being the senior director of corporate communications and knowledge at the Saudi Geological Survey, in the country's mining industry, she is also the vice president of the Professional Fashion Association Board.

"Today, I am working in different leadership roles in both mining and fashion. What we are witnessing today in terms of the quality in opportunity and development as Saudi women I don't think any other part of the world has reached in such a short span of time, thanks to Vision 2030, the aspiration of our leadership."

Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 is a wide-ranging programme of economic and societal reform launched in 2016, aiming to overhaul everything from the business climate to education, and women's rights.

Ms Zumai said: "Saudi women represent the kingdom in all global and local circles, we play big and important roles in our economic circles. When people refer to me as a Saudi woman working between cotton and copper, it reflects the extent of empowerment and diversity that has been granted to me."

Female ambassadors of culture

Ghadah AlHarthi is a Saudi cultural senior consultant working in research, strategy and content curation projects.

Currently in London, she helps the international market "understand the nuances of the Gulf market, its history, customs, traditions and values", enabling them to build positive relationships with local stakeholders.

Ms AlHarthi has worked on mega and giga projects – multibillion-dollar ventures – including royal palaces, managing biennales, designing museums and building strategies for fairs and cultural districts.

"The celebration of Saudi National Day is the perfect point to pay tribute to the remarkable advancement of Saudi women, a testament to the transformative power of Vision 2030."

This vision unveiled opportunities, creating a profound impact on the lives of Saudi women.

"Vision 2030 ignited a fervent desire for exploration and innovation, urging Saudi women to transcend conventional boundaries and explore new horizons," she said.

Historically, Saudi women had pivotal roles within specific sectors, such as medicine, education, finance and business. However, with the advent of Vision 2030, she said, "a seismic shift occurred, propelling them into every sector with unparalleled vigour", expanding their horizons and avenues for personal growth.

She said a striking illustration of this progress lies in the sectors of aviation, domestic security, sports and diplomacy, where Saudi women have taken important seats at decision-making tables.

"Vision 2030 ignited a fervent desire for exploration and innovation, urging Saudi women to transcend conventional boundaries and explore new horizons."

Saudi women are not only able to participate in global and regional sports, but they are also excelling in world events including the Olympics.

Drawing from her own experiences and those of countless Saudi women, she says it is evident that "while the journey ahead may be challenging, it is equally empowering and laden with opportunities for development".

"Though we are merely at the outset of this transformative journey, the trajectory is promising, as the ranks of female youth continue to swell within the kingdom."

The rise of Saudi women in cinema

As a female Saudi filmmaker for more than two decades, Danya M Alhamrani's journey in the industry has been "incredibly transformative" because of the changes brought by Vision 2030.

Before, pursuing a career in filmmaking was challenging given societal norms and limited opportunities, she told The National.

But with the establishment of the film commission and the initiatives that followed, the landscape "shifted dramatically".

Ms Alhamrani is chief executive of Eggdancer productions. The establishment of the film commission and the introduction of various grants, such as the Daw Competition, have been game-changers, she told The National.

"More women are now entering the film industry with a newfound sense of empowerment and confidence. The industry is becoming more inclusive ... the transformation is incredible."

Her business partner Dania Nassief received funding from the Daw Competition, which played a crucial role "in realising their creativity" and helped them use "high-quality production equipment, enlist a skilled and dedicated crew and invest time in following our characters, capturing genuine stories", she said.

The Red Sea International Film Festival attracts local and international filmmakers during its annual staging in December. It also funds the film industry in the region to help filmmakers. This year, the Red Sea Fund announced its selection of 33 projects from the kingdom, the Arab region and Africa, who will receive financial grants.

Without this backing, "bringing our ambitious project to fruition would have posed significant challenges" she said.

"The cultural shift brought about by Vision 2030 has paved the way for women like me to pursue our passions and contribute to the art of storytelling. The industry is becoming more inclusive and the narratives we are creating are diverse and reflective of our unique perspectives.

"I am filled with hope and excitement for the future of Saudi cinema. I believe that as the industry continues to grow, our stories will gain international recognition, fostering cross-cultural understanding.

"Through our work, we can contribute to breaking down stereotypes and showcasing the depth and complexity of our society. It's an exciting time for Saudi cinema, and I'm grateful for the opportunities that Vision 2030 and its initiatives have provided. I can't wait to continue telling stories that matter."

Saudi women investors

Aya Al Barazi works in international relations and is an angel investor and the chief operating officer of the Checkclik platform for e-commerce.

She said the Saudi Arabian e-commerce sector has become a major contributor to the development of countries' economies and foreign trade promotion.

"I personally felt confident investing in the e-commerce sector due to the government's support and the sector's rapid development."

She said Saudi Arabia is witnessing developments in the technology sector, "and unlimited support" whether its "financial, infrastructure for logistics services, the legislative system for e-commerce, a surge in incubators and accelerators – which makes Saudi Arabia the destination for local and international audiences".

By 2025, it is estimated that e-commerce in Saudi Arabia will exceed $15 billion.

"As an ambitious Saudi woman, I believe that government support for entrepreneurs and investors, women and youth, as well as the efforts made by all government agencies, have a major impact on our ability to compete globally, across all borders, and innovate in a way that will contribute to the development of a sustainable digital society."

"Last but not least, we quote Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who said, 'Empowering women and youth is essential to achieving sustainable growth.'"

Updated: September 23, 2023, 5:11 AM