Aseel el Hamad
The past couple of years has seen Saudi Arabia make major changes towards gender equality and women’s rights in the kingdom where it was previously against the law for women to drive or attend sporting events.
All of these positive advances towards female empowerment within Saudi Arabia are down to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, aka MBS, who has put women at the forefront of Vision 2030. The post oil plan will push the kingdom towards a modern, tourist friendly environment which encourages a more tolerant take on Islam as well as embolden women to take up employment.
In 2018, the country re-opened cinemas, sporting and entertainment events for men and women to attend together, allowed women their right to drive, and even passed a law to criminalize sexual harassment. With such an eventful year behind it, Saudi Arabia bought the year to an end with an unforgettable 3 day event at Ad Diriyah’s E Prix. The first of its kind, the festival bought together motorsport, music, and culture for all attendees to enjoy.
Saudi Arabian women spoke about how the event is positively impacting their lives and hopes for the future, as Aram Kabbani, a stylist from Jeddah told Vogue Arabia, “In my personal opinion, change was bound to happen. I have a great deal of respect for our beautiful culture, but the idea is never to be afraid of change just because we’re told to. The event was overwhelming for all Saudis, considering how this was not at all possible a while ago.”
Saudi Arabia welcomed thousands of visitors from all over the world to the weekend long event using a new visitor visa system which was set up just for the event which made history at Diriyah, located just outside of Riyadh. The entrepreneur and stylist, Kabbani, added, “People were merely enjoying themselves there and feeling the overwhelming vibe of happiness and change all around.”
Nora Al Shaikh
Agreeing with her, Jeddah based fashion designer, Nora Alshaikh said, “Regarding it being a gender-mixed event, it is simply a natural thing, as long as everyone is as respectful as we’ve been raised here in Saudi to be. From what I witnessed, everyone there was just having a good time. Ultimately, we are all working together to create positive change for everyone, regardless of gender, and to support Vision 2030. The events related to Formula E are part of a much larger and ongoing initiative to promote cross-cultural exchange at a time when we need it the most.”
The young designer also stated, “Young Saudis are not only proud of their heritage, but also see themselves as global citizens. We have a very rich culture and arts and design scene representing Saudi Arabia’s diverse regions. There is a pride that comes with being able to share that with the rest of the world through these events.”
Formula E Concerts - image via Arab News
For the first time in the kingdom’s history, the Ad Diriyah E Prix allowed for men and women to attend concerts together, where international artists including Jason Derulo, The Black Eyed Peas, OneRepublic and David Guetta took to the stage and saw attendees dancing to their music.
Amna Al Qubaisi
One of the major highlights of the E Prix were the female race-car drivers participating in the Formula E test session – including 18 year old Amna Al Qubaisi from the UAE. Saudi Arabian Aseel Al Hamad is the first female member of the Saudi Arabian Motorsport Federation, said of the event, “The hugely anticipated event proved that men and women are welcome to take part in their passions. It also serves as a general statement of empowerment and a focus on community.” Al Hamad celebrated the end of the driving ban for women with hopes that it would inspire Saudi women to become involved in motorsports.
Aseel El Hamad
Another first for Saudi Arabia was it’s new influx of tourists. Entitled Sharek, the kingdom’s latest visa system was launched with an objective to boost tourism for such events. The visa system was implemented for the inaugural Saudia Ad Diriyah E-Prix via online application when visitors purchased their Formula E tickets. This system resulted in thousands of tourists from across the world, including Scott Disick and Sofia Richie, who flew to the kingdom especially for the event.