Saudi Arabia appointed its first female ambassador to the United States on Saturday, CNN reports. The appointee, Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, a member of the Saudi royal family, has previously made attempts to promote women's empowerment.
Princess Reema will replace Prince Khalid bin Salman, a son of King Salman and younger brother of the crown prince. She is the daughter of Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who also served as the kingdom’s ambassador to the US from 1983 to 2005. The princess spent many years in Washington, DC, pursuing her degree in museum studies at George Washington University while her father served as the ambassador.
A single mother of two, Princess Reema has served seven years as the CEO of a luxury retail brand; started Alf Khair, a nonprofit that aims to empower women financially; promoted gender inclusivity in physical training and sports while serving in the ministry of education; and has worked on women’s rights in her current role as the Vice President of Development and Planning at Saudi General Sports.
The appointment continues a pattern of elevating women’s rights in Saudi Arabia in recent years. Women still need a male guardian’s permission to make major life decisions — like traveling, marrying, filing a police report, and getting out of jail — but some minor advancements have been made toward gender equality in the last decade through the economic and social reform plan called “Saudi Vision 2030."
After decades of exclusion, women are now allowed to drive, join the military, access basic health care and education on their own, own businesses, and watch live sports events live. On the political front, women are also rising — Sarah-Al Suhaimi became the first woman to chair Saudi Arabia’s stock exchange and Tamadur bint Youssef al-Ramah was appointed as the first female deputy labor minister.
But despite these reforms, a report recently released by the World Economic Forum ranked Saudi Arabia among the worst 10 countries for women to live in 2018. The researchers assessed 149 countries based on four parameters: economic opportunity, political empowerment, education options, health, and survival.
Human Rights Commission also launched an investigation into the alleged mistreatment of women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia, who were imprisoned and described details of torture. These revelations highlight the bigger issues faced by girls and women throughout Saudi Arabia.
With Princess Reema’s appointment, however, they could potentially get a powerful advocate.
“As a woman in government, my role is actually to keep highlighting the issues that will help us move forward holistically, not just for an elite community,” Princess Reema said in 2018.