A culture of 'hard work and play' for creative young Saudi women

New generation living dreams amid the kingdom's cultural revelation

As Saudi Arabia marks its 91st National Day, 'The National' sits down with pioneering Saudis to talk about the changing face of the kingdom.

The growing number of women in the workforce shows how times are changing in Saudi Arabia, where many young people are taking on creative roles for the first time.

A key goal in the kingdom’s Vision 2030 programme is to empower women in leadership positions across all fields.

One of its aims is for women to occupy 30 per cent of jobs by 2030. Saudi Arabia hit the target in February this year, nine years before schedule. A labour market survey found that Saudi women’s participation rose to 31.3 per cent in the third quarter of 2020, up from 26 per cent at the end of 2019.

Young women are now working in all sectors of business and government, and at all levels, right up to ministerial positions. The reforms have helped them to take up positions in film, music and fashion.

Haya Shaath, of MDLBEAST music and entertainment company, spoke about the changes in the kingdom.

She said many people saw the wave of reforms as a transformation, but the country always had the "dynamics" for the changes.

“When you look at the social dynamics and cultural fabric of society, the dynamics are already there," Ms Shaath said.

"We haven’t had the chance to engage with each other in public spaces. It’s a cultural revelation.

"This is how we have always been. We have always loved music, dancing and celebrating.”

Before joining the team, she attended MDLBEAST’s first event in Riyadh.

That was before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ms Shaath said she was overjoyed that the country’s youths were being given a platform for self-expression through music and dance.

“I joined in the middle of the pandemic, which is surprising because it’s an events company, when you’re locked in, but that is testament to the trust that events will pick up again," she said.

"People will always be craving music and self-expression no matter what the situation."

Ms Shaath studied design in social innovation in New York, which is useful in her role at MDLBEAST.

“I see myself using that skill set. Doing that through music, creative expression and shifting these behaviours with all the changes in the kingdom.”

Many Saudi men have applauded the moves and are supporting women who want to take up these new opportunities.

Although men and women had been working together, Vision 2030 has amplified those opportunities and highlighted the ease and success of mixed working environments.

The reforms have also allowed segments of society to celebrate and rejoice in public, rather than only in private spaces as happened before 2016.

So what is it like working in a mixed environment in the country?

“It’s normal for us,” Ms Shaath said with a smile.

“But fun, no abayas, a lot of hard work and play. The best thing is we get to work remotely, so I am currently in Berlin.

MDLBEAST started with a team of seven and has been expanding since the success of its first festival.

"My scope is constantly expanding and contracting – jumping into marketing, communications, event production and voice-overs,” Ms Shaath said.

"As a creatively driven organisation, we work collaboratively with teams and partners. We place artists and people at the heart of everything we do."

Before her job in Saudi Arabia, Ms Shaath lived in Dubai.

“I remember waking up one day thinking ‘what am I doing here when my country is going through a massive transformation? I should be there',” she said.

Many young Saudis around the world are following suit.

As an events company, Ms Shaath says the fast rate of change in the kingdom makes it important for MDLBEAST to maintain a balance.

“It is an intuitive sense and direction of the country when it comes to arts and culture. It is important for all of us not to forget our cultural identity – who we are and what we stand for.”

MDLBEAST is aiming to elevate local talent “and put them on the global map," she said.

The Middle East's biggest music festival has released its official line-up.

“It’s no small feat but we’re beasts,” Ms Shaath said.

MDLBEAST will host Soundstorm 2021, a four-day festival with more than 150 local and international artists due to perform in Riyadh later this year.

Updated: September 22nd 2021, 12:57 PM
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