Princess Reema highlights strong Saudi-US ties during key webinar

Time: 01 June 2021

Saudi Gazette report

JEDDAH — Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States Princess Reema Bint Bandar said that her goal is to unlock the Kingdom’s untapped potential, uplifting citizens and opening the country to the world socially and economically, as well as culturally.

She made these remarks carried by The Washington Diplomat, a US-based premier source of news and information for the global diplomatic community, recently during an online event, a part of the “Women in Global Leadership” webinar series.

The event, which was moderated by Susan Sloan, author of “A Seat at the Table: Women, Diplomacy and Lessons for the World,” offered a rare peek into the life and worldview of Princess Reema, who is considered to be one of the most powerful women in the Middle East.

Princess Reema, who made history by becoming Saudi Arabia’s first female ambassador, is the daughter of Prince Bandar bin Sultan. She grew up in Fairfax County, Virginia, while her father served as the Kingdom’s ambassador from 1983 to 2005.

Sharing her thoughts about her role model and the experience of her early life in the US, Princess Reema said: “My father remains, I think, the model of a Saudi diplomat. During his 23-year tenure I grew up in the United States. I was immersed in the culture of the US,” she said.

She added: “I’m lucky to have experienced life in both countries because it prepared me not only to work in the kingdom and bring dreams and aspirations of things I saw here but also allowed me to represent my nation.”

Princess Reema as an experienced diplomat emphasized her bipartisan approach with regard to American politics said: “The people I went to school with are now senators and congressman, CEOs, leaders of their countries. But the America I grew up in was not a diplomatic world, because my father did not include us in that.

“We didn’t know who was a Republican and who was a Democrat. We knew them as family,” Bandar said, admitting a shocking revelation: her family was fans of the Dallas Cowboys, not the Redskins, she added.

The Saudi ambassador to the US also talked about how unmindful she was about her Arab background while growing in the US, pointing out she still relishes memories of those times.

“I remember the onslaught of the cicadas. I remember ‘Hands Across America’ and the best of the music and the culture of the 1980s,” Princess Reema said Bandar, adding that she didn’t even know there was an Arab community in the Washington metro area until the age of 15. “My memories of America are memories of joy.”

She said things changed dramatically in the US after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which caused some misgivings but our bilateral relations were too strong to be affected.

“Our partnership has been tested at times,” said Princess Reema, adding: “When I took up my diplomatic post, my father took me aside, and he told me that today’s times are different. He advised me to keep in mind every day what’s at stake, and the responsibility I had to oversee, preserve and strengthen a relationship not bound by any single administration, or defined by any single issue.”

Vowing to further strengthen Saudi Arabia’s relations with the US, Princess Reema said: “It is my goal to explain to the American people why this alliance between our two nations is even more important now than ever before.”

Unfortunately, she said, American views of Saudi culture are often misunderstood, leading to stereotypes and negative publicity — especially when it comes to the country’s abysmal human rights record, its treatment of women, and its strict interpretation of Islam.

“We can’t wait for change to happen. We have to make it happen,” Princess Reema said. “In Saudi Arabia, we’re transforming faster than anyone had ever imagined, and that reform process is real, and it’s here to stay.”

Dismissing concerns over Saudi Arabia’s relations with the current US administration led by President Joe Bide, the Saudi ambassador said: “I very much look forward to working with the Biden administration.”

Princes Reema during the webinar also highlighted the Kingdom Vision 2030, a strategic framework to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and improve health, education, infrastructure and tourism.

“If we’ve done our job right, after 2030 you’re going to see a country that has a diversified economy, having stepped away from fossil fuels,” she said.

She also referred to Neom, a $500 billion futuristic urban project to house more than a million people on a 10,200-square-mile piece of desert in northwestern Saudi Arabia.

“Neom is the city of the future. That doesn’t mean we’ll have robots walking around, but a clean lifestyle,” Princess Reema said.

“Our future doesn’t have to be bleak. As we’ve seen with COVID-19, all this digital revolution has done is isolate us from each other. Coexistence with people and nature is really what we need.”

This article was first published in Saudi Gazette

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‘Just chase your dream,’ Farah Jefry, footballer and Adidas brand ambassador, tells Saudi girls

Time: 20 April 2021

Last December, the Kingdom held its very first Women’s Football League, with 24 teams from all over the Saudi Arabia competing for the honor of being the first side to take home the spoils of victory
RIYADH: Saudi sportswomen have come a long way in the past few years. Victories large and small have been hard-won in the past decade, and the Kingdom’s female population is showing no signs of slowing down.
Saudi women across the country are exploring new ways of being active, with some even choosing to take on their brothers at football, not knowing the opportunities that could arise from it.
One of the most notable names in Saudi sports is none other than the Kingdom’s current ambassador to the US, Princess Reema bint Bandar. Before her diplomatic engagement, Princess Reema served as the General Sports Authority’s (GSA) deputy of planning and development, where she led diversity and inclusion, the development of the Kingdom’s sports economy, and strategic partnerships.
Last December, the Kingdom held its very first Women’s Football League, with 24 teams from all over the Saudi Arabia competing for the honor of being the first side to take home the spoils of victory.
And last Monday, Saudi women in sport gained yet another victory as one of their own landed the sponsorship deal of a lifetime. Adidas announced that the company had signed Jeddah Eagles’ midfielder Farah Jefry as a brand ambassador, making her the first Saudi sportswoman to represent it in the Middle East.
Jefry, 18, who started playing football a decade ago, told Arab News she had always dreamt of playing professionally, and that being singled out by Adidas to represent the German sports brand was a great honor.
“Adidas is such a well-known company, and I’m happy to be part of the family. Hopefully, this will pave the way for other Saudi female footballers in the future,” she said of the appointment.

Don’t be discouraged by people or opinions — there might be some obstacles, but at the end it is all worth it.

Farah Jefry, Jeddah Eagles’ midfielder

For Jefry, reaching this point in her career was not always easy, even if she had known she wanted to play since she was a child.
“I have been training with the Jeddah Eagles Ladies’ Football Club for almost 3 years,” she said. “At first it was tough because I was one of the youngest members on the team and playing with people who were a lot more experienced compared to me.”
However, Jefry took the experience as an opportunity to learn from the team’s older members, in addition to practicing at home to improve her basic skills.
“It has become a lifestyle now, and walking around with a football all day is normal for me nowadays,” she said.
According to Jefry, the hardest part of being a professional footballer is maintaining consistency, another reason she believes it important to practice as much as possible.
Jefry also counts herself lucky to have a great support system in the form of her family and friends, and says that those closest to her have always known how badly she wanted to play football at a professional level, doing whatever they could to help her make that dream a reality.
However, she says that she has had to deal with her fair share of critics, particularly those who think that there is no room for women in the sport.
“Many people keep telling me that this sport isn’t for women. However, the way I view it is that this sport isn’t for a specific gender; just like any other sport, at the end of the day I’m doing what I love and I shouldn’t be judged based on the fact that I am a woman,” she told Arab News.
She also has advice for other Saudi girls who want to be part of what she calls a “beautiful” journey.
“Don’t be discouraged by people or opinions — there might be some obstacles, but at the end it is all worth it. If you’re passionate enough just chase your dream. Everything else will align with that sooner or later,” she said.

This article was first published in Arab News

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A Seat at the Table: In Conversation with H.R.H. Princess Reema bint Bandar, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States

Time: 07 April 2021

This article was first published in Calchamber Advocacy 

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Attacks on Saudi Arabia threaten global energy security, Princess Reema bint Bandar warns

11/03/21

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar said the attacks by Iran-backed militias on the Kingdom threaten civilians. (File/Wikipedia)

Lives of innocent civilians at risk from actions of Iran-backed militias, says Princess Reema bint Bandar
‘We are exercising extreme restraint in the face of a daily barrage of weaponized drones and ballistic missiles,’ she adds
LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US said “egregious terrorist attacks” by Iran-backed militias on the Kingdom threatened both civilians and global energy security.
In the most recent incident, Arab coalition forces intercepted a drone targeting an oil tank yard in Ras Tanura Port and a missile heading for an Aramco residential area in Dhahran on Sunday.
The attacks “represent a threat to the stability of global energy supplies, affecting the entire global economy and endangering the lives of Saudi workers in Aramco and thousands more from 80 different nationalities, including Americans,” Princess Reema bint Bandar said on Wednesday.
She added: “We are exercising extreme restraint in the face of a daily barrage of weaponized drones and ballistic missiles.”
The envoy praised the “brave and remarkable efforts” of the Saudi Armed Forces in successfully intercepting more than 526 Houthi drones and more than 346 ballistic missiles, and protecting civilians from all manner of threats.
She said that the situation is distressing because despite the Kingdom’s efforts to resolve the conflict in Yemen, Houthi cross-border attacks have escalated in the past few weeks. In addition, she said, the Iran-backed group has launched an offensive in an attempt to take control of the oil-rich city of Marib, which has been a safe haven for internally displaced people since the conflict began six years ago. The Houthis have also shelled and bombarded the city of Taiz and other Yemeni civilian locations, she added.
“The Kingdom is committed to ending the war in Yemen through a political resolution but on the other side of this conflict is a group driven by the extremist ideology of the Iranian regime,” Princess Reema said.
The Houthi militias continue to disregard the suffering of the people of Yemen and are not interested in serious discussions to resolve the conflict, she added. Meanwhile the Kingdom, from the beginning of the conflict, has shown determination to restore stability and security to the war-torn country through a negotiated settlement, she said.
The Kingdom also supports all UN-led peace initiatives, Princess Reema said, and Saudi officials are actively supporting the work of Martin Griffiths, the UN’s special envoy for Yemen, and Tim Lenderking, the newly appointed US special envoy to the country.
Meanwhile, Iran continues to provide weapons, training and technical support to the Houthis, she said as she called on the international community to take action to prevent the smuggling into Yemen of Iranian weapons that are “being used to terrorize Yemenis and to launch attacks on civilian targets in Saudi Arabia.”
The princess also pointed out that the Houthis have denied UN teams access to carry out emergency repairs on the Safer oil tanker, which has been moored in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen for more than five years. Its condition has deteriorated to the extent that it threatens a catastrophic oil spill, which experts warn could be four times as bad as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Vision 2030 puts Saudi women in the driver’s seat

08/03/21

Saudi Ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar speaks at an event. (Supplied)

The new goals set on the horizon are leadership, direction and making an impact on the future
RIYADH: As we mark International Women’s Day, we see the new highs Saudi women have soared to since the launch of Vision 2030 in the Kingdom.
Reforms have changed the narrative surrounding women’s empowerment from inclusivity and equality to notability and distinction. Women’s accomplishments as part of Vision 2030 have set the stage for the further success and achievement of young female leaders in the Kingdom.
The goals of Saudi women are no longer equality or equal opportunity, but rather surpassing their counterparts in ideology, accomplishments and innovation across all sectors. In doing so, they have paved the way for a young and determined generation of future female leaders. These innovative accomplishments are all due to the stepping stones laid out by Vision 2030’s extensive social reforms for women.
Now, Saudi women are ambassadors, general managers, directors of private entities, government spokespersons and more. Their voices are now heard wide and clear across the world.
As of February 2021, women are earning ranks in the Kingdom’s armed forces and holding positions of leadership, including as sergeants commanding teams of soldiers in the Saudi Arabian Army, Royal Saudi Air Defense, Royal Saudi Navy, Royal Saudi Strategic Missile Force and Armed Forces Medical Services.
It is simply no longer the aim of Saudi women to hope for inclusivity in society and the workplace. The new goals set on the horizon are leadership, direction and making an impact on the future of the Kingdom, whether through financial growth, social reform, or paving the way for new generations of women to succeed.

Vision 2030’s initiatives and reforms have not only affected the careers of women, but also their social lives — amplifying voices that were not always able to be heard. Legal reforms have been amended by Vision 2030 to ensure the rights of divorced women. An alimony fund was created to support women and their children during court proceedings, and women are now able to enter judicial departments independently without the past restriction of having a guardian present. In the past, judgments meant women had to return back to their homes without any objections, but since Vision 2030, these regulations are a literal thing of the past — a historic blimp in the bright future ahead.
It is no exaggeration to say that when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was appointed in his position in 2017, promises were made and delivered.
Women are involved in the workforce, driving on the roads and are more independent, particularly with the relaxing of the guardianship law last year. Tools such as the sexual harassment law were put in place to ensure their safety, and they found complete support from the government in facilitating their ambitions, including being appointed to high positions.
In July 2020, under a royal decree by King Salman, 13 women were appointed to serve on the Saudi Human Rights Commission, making half of the commission female. This decision gave women a louder voice and a foundation through which to make an impact in the Kingdom.
Women are now a driving force in growing the Kingdom’s alternative economic resources, and over the past decade there has been a surge in the number of female entrepreneurs, business owners and CEOs.

HIGHLIGHTS
• Saudi women are now ambassadors, general managers, directors of private entities, government spokespersons and more.

• As of February 2021, women are earning ranks in the Kingdom’s armed forces and holding positions of leadership.

• An alimony fund was created to support women and their children during court proceedings.

• Women are now able to enter judicial departments independently without the past restriction of having a guardian present.

• In July 2020, under a royal decree by King Salman, 13 women were appointed to serve on the Saudi Human Rights Commission.

Dr. Maliha Hashmi, executive director for the health and wellbeing sector of the NEOM megacity project, is a young female health leader in the region. She said that Vision 2030 has created the opportunity for women to build new roles and transform older expectations in a positive way.

“Through Vision 2030, social acceptance, and most of all, the continuous support of the government, we’ll see a balanced leadership, in both the private and public sectors, represented by both men and women. Plus, I’m very optimistic that we’ll witness in the near future more women in ministerial and international representation,” she said.
“Under the visionary leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has taken a giant step forward in empowering its women. While the world knows and talks about women drivers on Saudi roads, there’s more to this socio-economic and cultural change than meets the eye,” Hashmi, a Harvard doctorate degree holder, told Arab News.
“More high-tech startups can now be owned by women. There are now female diplomats in the GCC. I am super excited that this started in Saudi Arabia with Princess Reema bint Bandar as the first Saudi female ambassador. I am also honored to represent NEOM as one of its leading female executives. I hope this passion within me for this amazing project is contagious and is an encouragement for other young women to join, and that I can serve as a great role model for them.”
Vision 2030 has changed the dynamic of the Kingdom and not only opened it to the world, but also to many Saudis.
Women from the Kingdom are now seen traveling around the world and exploring new cultures without the obligatory presence of a male guardian, due to a decree allowing women to obtain their own passports and travel over the age of 21 without a male guardian.
Vision 2030 gave women the right to drive, planting the seeds that led to the emergence of the first professional female racing driver, Reema Al-Juffali. The reforms also created equal opportunity in science, and pushed women scientists into the limelight, such as Nouf Al-Numair, a “DNA decoder” who researches the early detection of emerging diseases through gene mutation. This is only a glimpse into the world of achievements female leaders in Saudi Arabia have created as a result of empowerment in the Kingdom.
It is evident that the fast changes led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have also had a global impact. For the second year in a row, the “Women, Business and the Law 2021” report by the World Bank Group listed Saudi Arabia as one of the top countries for economic inclusion and women’s reform.
One woman who has benefited from the changes is Noura Al-Dossary. Orphaned at a young age and divorced with one daughter, Al-Dossary was in a predicament. Her sister and her brother-in-law helped her, but she soon realized she had to support both herself and her daughter financially.
“Vision 2030 opened doors for me that I thought were bolted shut,” she told Arab News. Coming from a conservative background, and with limited education, she ventured into various workplaces, and soon found work at a small college. However, she was unsatisfied with the pay, the work atmosphere and the lack of insurance and benefits. But an opportunity soon presented itself in a laundry department at a five-star hotel.
She was attentive to detail, eager to learn and grateful for the opportunity. “I was exposed to a different world. I met people from diverse nationalities, mixed with the opposite gender and quickly learned English on the job — something I never dreamed of.”
Al-Dossary’s workplace enrolled her in courses to not only further her career, but also her character. “I felt invested in it,” she said, a sentiment that many Saudi women share. “People tell me: ‘Oh, but you work in laundry.’ But let me tell you something: I’m proud of myself.”
There are many women like Al-Dossary who have succeeded in their own right. They may not appear in the headlines, but they are a vital part of Saudi society.
“I’m able to financially support my family, have insurance and benefits, and I bought a home,” said Al-Dossary. “None of this would have been possible without Vision 2030. I am independent and I finally found the support I needed to realize my dreams.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi–US ties much deeper than one Saudi leader or US president, says Princess Reema

19/11/20

Saudi Gazette report

WASHINGTON — Princess Reema Bint Bandar Bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to the United States, underscored the strength of the historic relations between the two countries, saying that the ties are much deeper than one Saudi leader or one American president.

Princess Reema made the remarks while addressing a virtual conference of the National Council on US-Arab Relations, titled “The Next US Presidency: Implications for the US-Arab Relationship.” In her speech, the ambassador dealt with topics such as the growing US-Saudi relations, the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, and the ongoing efforts to combat extremism and terrorism in the region.

Reema emphasized that the relations between Saudi Arabia and the US are strong and historic that span over eight decades. These deep-rooted ties not only bring together the leadership of the two countries but also their people. “Our partnership is bipartisan. It’s a relationship that has been valued by both Democratic and Republican administrations. Our relationship is far deeper than just one Saudi leader or one American president,” she said.

On the significance of growing ties with the US, she said: “With the Kingdom’s growing global role, especially with its presidency of the G20, its responsibility in the region, the Middle East and the Gulf is constantly increasing, and this will be important to our partnership with the United States. Whenever our economic, social, and cultural reforms in the Kingdom are stronger, we will be in a better position, qualifying us to be the largest reliable partner in the region for the US,” she said.

Princess Reema also noted: “We will be able to assume a greater leadership role in the region and bear a greater part of the responsibility, and we will do so without neglecting our focus on peace, stability, and prosperity.”

The Kingdom is witnessing tremendous and unprecedented changes and its leadership is making efforts to bring about the change, not only at the domestic level but also through our foreign policy, Princess Reema said, adding that it is an agenda designed to achieve permanent peace, security, and prosperity for the region and the world.

The ambassador also spoke about the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and the reforms that Saudi Arabia is witnessing in various fields. She underlined the importance of confronting Iran’s misbehavior in the region, reining in the Houthis in Yemen, combating extremism and terrorism, and the importance of reaching a solution to the Palestinian issue.

This article was first published in Saudi Gazette

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Princess Reema bint Bandar appointed member of International Olympic Committee

Time: 18 July, 2020

Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan has been elected as a member for International Olympic Committee (IOC) during its session on Friday. (Twitter: @alekhbariyatv)
  • Princess Reema has been Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US since February 2019
  • Also elected to the IOC was Sebastian Coe, the head of World Athletics, and four others

JEDDAH: Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud has been elected as member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) during its session on Friday.

“Honored to be elected as a member of IOC. Thank you to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, HRH Crown Prince, and Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal (president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee) for their support. It has been an honor to serve my community through the universal language of sports,” said the princess on her official Twitter account.

Five candidates — three women and two men — have been nominated for membership by the IOC executive board.

The 136th IOC session chaired by its president, Dr. Thomas Bach, was held virtually on Friday, and voted in Princess Reema as the first Saudi women to hold this post. Princess Reema is the third Saudi in this position after the late Prince Faisal bin Fahd bin Abdulaziz Al Saud (1983-1999), and Prince Nawwaf bin Faisal bin Fahd Al Saud (2001-2014).

Also elected to the IOC was Sebastian Coe, the head of World Athletics, former Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, Cuban Olympic Committee (COC) board member Maria de la Caridad Colon Ruenes and acting Mongolian National Olympic Committee president Battushig Batbold.

Princess Reema has been Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US since February 2019, and is the first female to hold the post. She attended George Washington University, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in museum studies.

In October 2018, she was appointed president of the Mass Participation Federation, making her the first woman to lead a multi-sports federation in the Kingdom, a role she occupied until her appointment as Saudi ambassador to the US.

Princess Reema has served as a member of the World Bank’s advisory council for the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative since 2017. She has been a member of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee since 2017 and a member of the IOC Women in Sports Commission since 2018.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, president of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee (SAOC), thanked King Salman and the Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman for their continued support for all sports, both internally and externally.

He congratulated Princess Reema on her election, saying that it confirms the ability of Saudi sports cadres to be present at an international level in organizations such as the IOC, which is the highest sporting authority in the world, where she, along with her colleagues, can work towards promoting Olympic values in Saudi Arabia and the world.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Princess Reema: Mothers are grateful for what Saudi Vision 2030 will bring their daughters

Time: April 13, 2018

Princess Reema bint Bandar

Parents worry about their children going abroad to study and staying there because life was easier
The changes encompassed in Vision 2030 constituted evolution, not revolution
PARIS: Changes in women’s status may have come too late for some, but mothers in Saudi Arabia are thrilled that their daughters will benefit, says entrepreneur and philanthropist Princess Reema bint Bandar.
Princess Reema, who is deputy head of planning and development at the General Sport Authority, told Arab News: “Mothers say that even though they did not have the same chances, they are very glad that their children will.
“They may worry about them, but that’s a universal worry shared by any parent.”
At the same time, she said she was well aware that there was resistance to the reforms from some sections of the older generation.
“We held some forums with students in the US and they told us that they want to work and do things but their parents say no, and I have to admit we dropped the ball on that aspect. So then we had to sit and work out how to persuade and reassure the parent generation.”
The princess said young Saudis were now returning to their homeland after studying abroad.
“Parents worry about their children going abroad to study and staying there because life was easier. But nowadays they are coming back home because there are opportunities for them,” said the princess, who herself returned to Riyadh after graduating from George Washington University with a bachelor’s degree in museum studies.
One of the princess’s roles in the General Sport Authority is to work on long-term job creation and develop a career structure in sport.
“If you’re an athlete, then obviously your career is short. We are dealing with sport as an industry. We are able to show that sport can and does produce long-term jobs with a career structure and an income trajectory,” she said.
Princess Reema, a successful retail entrepreneur whose father was a former Saudi ambassador to the US, was one of the business leaders addressing the Saudi-French Business Forum in Paris on Tuesday. She has launched her own handbag brand and when she was CEO of Alfa International, which operates luxury store Harvey Nichols in Riyadh, she bought more women into the workforce and provided child care services.
At the business forum she spoke passionately about the untapped potential of women in Saudi Arabia.
“This is not a dream. Women’s inclusion is not happening because we want to get Americans to say Saudi Arabia is a great place. It is happening because it is our right,” she said.
Addressing a room packed with the CEOs of leading French companies; she continued: “What we need to learn from you is how to integrate sports into the economy, as you have done.”
Her mission, both abroad and at home, was not necessarily to change people’s views of women or of Saudis, she said.
“We are not asking you to change an opinion of us that you already hold, but to consider a fact: We are the future.”
The princess evoked the French tradition of the salon, “with scientists, artists and philosophers talking to each other.”
She stressed that the changes encompassed in Vision 2030 constituted evolution, not revolution.
“You had to have a revolution here,” she said, referring to the 1789 revolt that resulted in the removal of the monarchy in France. “We don’t have to have one because we have learned from the past. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression — without these you cannot have a creative society. It’s not about being more American or more Chinese or Russian. It’s about being the best Saudis we can be.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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Princess Reema vows to involve women in sports

Time: 09 August 2016

Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud

RIO DE JANEIRO: A US-raised Saudi princess freshly appointed to increase female participation in sports plans to help license gyms and modify outdoor spaces for women in the Kingdom, she said in an interview on Monday.
Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud was last week tapped for the job at the General Sports Authority in a country where women are barred from driving and subject to a restrictive male guardianship system.
But as part of a sweeping economic reform and amid high obesity rates, Riyadh is also planning to make it easier for women to work out.
In her first interview with English-language media since her appointment, Princess Reema said there was “no turning back” on the plans, but warned the pace of reform may not be fast enough for a Western audience.
“We will not go and break societal norms and we will not go and create cultural clashes, what we will do is create opportunities,” said Princess Reema, 41, speaking in Rio where she has been supporting the four female Saudi athletes competing in the 2016 Olympic Games.
“Our biggest mandate right now is mass participation,” she said, adding she would have more details once she officially takes up her role next month.
Women in Saudi Arabia face significant hurdles to practice sports. They must wear head-to-toe garments in public, observe strict rules on gender segregation and obtain permission from a male guardian to travel, study or marry.
Women’s gyms are not eligible for licenses, so they are scarce or operate on the sly.
While US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch said in a report earlier this month there had been some progress in women’s rights to participate in sports, it called on Saudi Arabia to remove the “serious barriers” that remain.
“I’m glad that people are recognizing we’re moving,” said Princess Reema, who grew up in the D.C. area because her father was the long-time ambassador to Washington and has gone on to work in business.
“I understand that from an international point of view they might not think we’re moving fast enough. But one thing they need to absolutely understand in the Middle East is that it’s an elastic community. If we pull too fast, you break that elastic.”
As part of nurturing women’s participation in sports, she said her agenda would include pushing for female coaches, women’s bathrooms in public spaces, and Shariah-compliant workout clothes.
The female Saudi athletes at the Olympics — only the second group ever, in Rio with male guardians — are already inspiring their counterparts back home to put their sneakers on, Princess Reema said.
“The overwhelming majority, especially of young women, has essentially said: ‘if they can do it means I can’,” said Princess Reema, a basketball fan and skier.

This article was first published in Arab News

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