There was a time when leaving the house without wearing an abaya was impossible in Saudi Arabia. So was getting into a car without a man to accompany me. Concerts and festivals were literally a foreign concept, as if they only ever happened in mythical worlds.
As I stand today, the Kingdom has made what was once impossible a reality. Since Vision 2030 came into play in 2016, Saudi Arabia has gradually developed into one of the Middle East’s largest contemporary hubs.
With the nation turning its eye towards the tertiary and tourism sectors, the abolishment of bans on women driving and cinemas, life in Saudi Arabia has seen one of the most drastic societal changes in the contemporary world. To get an idea of what day-to-day life is now like and what the youth think of it all, we caught up with five young Saudis to find out:
Before all of these reforms, the only way we would socialise would be in houses. We didn’t have many options of where to go or who to see, especially if you had friends of the opposite gender. After the reforms began, men and women could be a foot apart in a concert and it wouldn’t matter. We can finally socialise and meet new people in art galleries, concerts, festivals, hundreds of new luxury restaurants and so much more. I can finally meet and connect with people who have the same interests as me. This has allowed younger demographics to enjoy the changes the most.
Saudi has witnessed many changes in the last few years, some that have affected me drastically and some that haven’t at all. One of the most important reforms are linked to the improvement of women’s rights, which have been welcomed with open arms. Women couldn’t drive, they couldn’t work in certain positions that they can today. Several industries have also developed and integrated into the modern world, including the tech industry where Saudis are finally investing into the digital future. Saudi has realised that change needs to occur if they are to compete with some of the world’s leading economies.
Reforms were the one thing that I’ve hoped for growing up in Saudi. While it was a bold and sudden move that many in the past were frightful to undertake; it seemed like almost immediately the communities around me adapted; as though it was a hope they also had and were ready for. However, change is an uncomfortable process, that will inevitably be faced with setbacks and resistance. It does not happen overnight. The “reforms” are a transitional phase to what, I also hope, will be quickly integrated in the culture – like a domino effect across communities – but most importantly while safeguarding their values and identities.
I am very proud to be living in a time where female empowerment is becoming more important. Personally, I can feel the change all around whether it be on social media, at work, or even just walking around the city; women are having a louder voice than ever. These drastic changes that are happening will be the norm to younger generations which is ultimately the goal; passing on the core idea of what it is to be a strong and independent woman that is capable of anything and everything. After coming back to Riyadh, being abroad for long, what I can say is that I am proud to see Saudi women in all sorts of fields and positions, whether it be a CEO of a company or a professional race-car driver. I’m in awe of where Saudi women have reached and how much more potential they have to reach even further.
5 years ago, my daily life highly depended on calling a male driver to pick me up from and drop me off to any of my destinations – school, grocery store or a friend’s place. Fast forward to 2020, I jump behind the wheel in my own car, proudly holding my first ever driver’s license issued from the Saudi Driving School. Whenever and wherever I needed to go, I am free to do so independently. Be it the globally known restaurants opening all over the city of Riyadh or even going to watch David Guetta perform at a concert with a group of friends, I can proudly say that the transformation of this country has truly changed my life. Looking back at the amount of change that’s happened over the past couple of years, I am proud to live and work in a country that is transforming to the better on the daily.
Photography: MDL Beast