Riyadh, Saudi Arabia:
The Arabian Peninsula is known for its conservative traditions, but rapid social change is opening up new opportunities for women, especially younger generations.
In a video project dedicated to youth in the Middle East, where more than half of the population is under 30, AFP interviewed women from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Qatar and Bahrain.
The first part of the series focused on artists in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the Gaza Strip, Israel and Iraq.
‘Start from scratch’
Esraa Aldkheil, dressed in black and red overalls, is the only woman on the go-kart track in Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh, where a number of repressive policies are being rolled back.
By day, the 28-year-old works as a biophysical chemistry researcher to fund her dream: to become the kingdom’s first world motorsport champion.
At night, she races with her male competitors and races around the track in a country where women were not allowed to drive until 2018.
“I see a bright future for me in Saudi Arabia,” says Ms. Aldkheil, who also works two to three hours in the gym five days a week.
Mrs. Aldkheil finishes fourth in the race, just off the podium — but then she grins and points to the top step, where the winner is standing.
“When you start from scratch, there are huge challenges to overcome to get to this level,” she says.
“I keep working on my goal. I want to be an example for all girls who are insecure.”
‘I am the director’
Kafaa Mari dreams of becoming Yemen’s first female education minister and rebuilding her country devastated by eight years of war.
Ms Mari, 28, heads an organization promoting ‘women’s development’ in Hadhramaut province in her very conservative homeland.
While driving to her workplace in Seiyun, a soldier stops her at the entrance. “I’m the director here,” she proudly tells him.
“I want to participate in decision-making, especially those that affect women,” Ms Mari told AFP, adding that women are a long way from being considered “partners of men” in building their communities.
The war has revealed the vital role of women in society, says Ms 1Mari, who hopes to restore the image of a country once known to the Romans as “Arabia Felix” (“Happy Arabia”).
In an air-conditioned cafe in Doha, Jawhara Al-Thani is working on her “Women of Qatar” website, which aims to “expose the rarely seen but ubiquitous role of women in Qatari society”.
With portraits of successful and ambitious women on her website, Al-Thani, a competitive archer, hopes to “help inspire many future generations” in the conservative, gas-rich state.
“My personal experience is drastically different from other women in Qatar, I believe, and Qatari women in general,” said the 27-year-old, who is among hundreds of members of the ruling Al-Thani family of the gas-rich kingdom.
“I am very aware of my privilege and my fortune to grow up in a well-educated and supportive family, regardless of gender.”
Al-Thani is encouraged by the success stories, which she says testify to “very rapid progress” in Qatar.
“If you look at who’s on top, you see a lot of Qatari women,” she says, but admits that they “may not be as much as we would like to see”.
“Like I said, very rapid progress, very rapid changes in a very short time.”
‘We can win the first prize’
Habiba Maher is only 18 years old and is the first woman to play golf for Bahrain.
After practicing on a catered course in the capital, Manama, she returns home and shows off her collection of trophies and photographs taken with Bahraini royalty.
“My dream is to compete in international championships… against female professionals from all over the world,” said Ms. Maher, who studies computer science at the American University of Bahrain.
“I dream of winning first place, flying our national flag high and proving that we Bahraini women can win first prize.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)
Featured video of the day
“My work, no words will speak”: Chief Justice DY Chandrachud after oath