Meet the Saudi Princess hoping to inspire new generation of female Arab explorers

Princess Abeer tells The National of her Antarctica adventure and the need for action to address climate change

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Daring adventures in some of the world's harshest environments is not an activity normally associated with a princess.

However, that's exactly what Saudi Arabia's Princess Abeer Al Saud thrives on.

In her latest adventure, she joined a research expedition in November for a journey to some of the remotest parts of Antarctica.

Princess Abeer told The National she hoped her actions would inspire women from the Arab world to follow in her footsteps and become explorers.

“I think there is a huge underrepresentation of explorers from the Mena region,” said Princess Abeer.

“It is important that the world is exposed to cultures that aren’t theirs and that they see people of all colours and backgrounds can be the heroes.

“It’s also important for non-western girls like me to know they don’t need to be portrayed as someone who has to be empowered but rather as equal partners of positive impact.

“I hope that we see a growing number of both Saudi and Arab women and men as explorers in the near future.”

Society needs to see characters portrayed beyond stereotypical norms, she added.

Princess Abeer was chosen as one of 80, from a pool of 1,800 applicants, to take part in the expedition.

In addition to her work with various UN agencies, she is chairwoman of the Sustainable Development Association (Talga) in Saudi Arabia.

She explained how she was even subjected to bias while taking part in the expedition.

"During lunch one day, a well-renowned woman looked at me and said 'things must be way different where you come from as a Saudi female'.

"I told her, 'yes, our food, customs, art, monuments, architecture and traditional clothes are different, but our hopes for the world, dreams for the future and universal values are the same'.”

Challenging times

As you would expect of a journey to one of the world's most inhospitable regions, the expedition to Antarctica was not without its challenges.

One particularly tough experience was crossing the Drake Passage, which connects the southern tip of South America with the northernmost area of the Antarctic Peninsula.

It is widely regarded by experts to be the most dangerous section of ocean on the planet.

Princess Abeer described the two-day journey by ship as wild.

“We had a very challenging 48 hours on the Drake Passage,” she said. “My expedition mates lay on their bunks. Others used dark humour to console their anxiety by playing the Titanic soundtrack on the old piano on board in the lounge.”

“A few others were brave and calm, enjoying their time, knowing that the storm would pass.”

Tackling climate change

She said she was steadfast in her goals for a more sustainable world.

Antarctica is losing 150 billion tonnes of glacier ice a year, according to figures released by the World Economic Forum, a rate that is accelerating.

“What happens in Antarctica does not stay in Antarctica,” said Princess Abeer. “We can't manage the temperature rising but we can at least try to keep it to 1.5°C – that should be the goal.

“Collectively, every person must take small steps to help preserve the environment because if we don't, every part of the world and humanity will be affected by climate change – a complex problem that requires systemic solutions.”

She also warned of the injustice of climate change, with much of its harmful effects absorbed by the most vulnerable members of society.

“The impact of climate change is not just about the environment, there is also the impact on disaster risks, gender, human conflict, displacement and immigration, which affects all people in all countries.

“Marginalised groups, such as the poor, women and children, in small island states and developing nations are the most at risk.

“It is not an easy issue to tackle but it is one that we must succeed in.”

Women, she added, have a unique role to play when it comes to tackling climate change.

“As women, we are raised to deal with complex issues and collaborate to take care of our families, communities and environment,” she said.

Plans for the future

Princess Abeer said she hopes her experience and expertise can go some way to helping young Arabs achieve their dreams.

“My dream is to establish a university and an institute in the Empty Quarter, which will focus on biodiversity, human performance in extreme conditions and community eco-heritage preservation,” she said.

She is planning a return trip to Antarctica next season in November to visit Ross Sea which is the southernmost sea in the world.

Updated: March 08, 2024, 4:48 AM