Arab Youth Survey 2018: Overwhelming majority of young Saudis support more women's rights

'Because of the leader is with us - they don’t have a chance to say no,' businesswomen council leader Deena Al Faris said of reform opponents

TOPSHOT - A Saudi woman practices driving in Riyadh, on April 29, 2018, ahead of the lifting of a ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia in the summer. 
In September 2017, a royal decree announced the end of a ban on women driving -- the only one of its kind in the world -- as of June 2018. / AFP PHOTO / Yousef DOUBISI

The overwhelming majority of young people in Saudi Arabia say more needs to be done to improve women’s rights, according to a major survey – and men are more proportionally in favour of expanding them.

According to the Arab Youth Survey 2018, released on Tuesday, 92 per cent of men in Saudi Arabia support the expansion of women’s rights, compared to 88 per cent of women.

Just 3 per cent of young Saudi men disagree, compared to 6 per cent of Saudi women.

The findings were the result of 3,500 face to face interviews - the largest survey of its kind in the Middle East.

Young people across the Kingdom are also strongly in favour of giving women the right to drive, with 82 per cent of women and 81 per cent of men backing the landmark change in legislation, according to the survey.

However, 19 per cent of Saudi men and 17 per cent of Saudi women oppose the change.

“For me [the percentage of male opposition] is on the higher side than what I would have expected. But part of it is, especially when you think about youth and the dynamics in Saudi Arabia, there’s not a whole lot of interaction between men and women,” said Tala Al Jabri, a Saudi MBA student at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

“Of course this is changing, however, what that leads to is a lack of awareness among men of women’s issues. I think that might help to explain why almost 20 per cent [of men] opposed it.”

Saudi women jog in the streets of Jeddah's historic al-Balad district on March 8, 2018.
Colourful and oozing defiance, a sports-friendly version of the abaya gown was once considered a symbol of cultural rebellion in conservative Saudi Arabia, but it is fast becoming the new normal. / AFP PHOTO / Amer HILABI

Sunil John, chief executive officer of the public relations agency Asda'a Burson-Marsteller, which carried out the survey of 3,500 Arabs across the Middle East, said it is evidence of enduring conservatism among the young.

“It clearly shows that there is a conservative section in Saudi society, which is well known,” he said.

However, he pointed out that the survey shows massive support for the change across the Middle East – with the Levant region most strongly in favour at 89 per cent, followed closely by the GCC at 88 per cent and then North Africa at 86 per cent.

Deena Abdallah Al Faris, vice president of the Al Faris Group of Industries, one of a group of three women who plan to drive from the Eastern region to Jeddah when the change comes into effect, said Mohammed bin Salman’s strong support of the issue has helped some it from a different perspective.

“Because of the leader is with us, they don’t have a chance to say no,” said Mrs Al Faris, who is the vice president of the Businesswomen Council in the Eastern Region Chamber.

But both women agree significant challenges remain.


More on Arab Youth Survey 2018:

Saudi Crown Prince and his reforms win huge support from young Arabs across the Middle East

Washington's downfall in the Arab world is matched by Moscow's rise in influence

Gloomy times for young people in the Levant - and the outlook isn't any brighter


One of the biggest is the issue of guardianship, said Ms Al Jabri, who was chosen to give a talk in New York on why it is necessary to economically empower Saudi women by the Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Foundation (MiSK) during Mohammed bin Salman’s trip to the United States in March.

Ms Al Jabri, who is also studying a masters degree in Public Policy at Harvard University, said she cannot leave the country without her father’s approval.

“Now I can open a bank account on my own but it was the case in the past where I needed my father’s approval or if I was looking for a job and I wanted to accept an offer to work, I needed my father’s authorisation,” she said.

“The guardianship issue is number one.”