While it’s widely viewed as the world’s most conservative Arab state, Saudi Arabia has seen some considerable change in recent times – but none more so radical than what’s happened in the last year.
While women once required the permission of a male guardian to do a number of tasks that we often take for granted (driving for example), last year, Saudia Arabia’s King Salman issued an order that forbid government agencies from demanding a male guardian’s consent for women seeking particular services and activities.
It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s something – a small step that will hopefully encourage more amendments to rules that require women to gain the permission from men to do a whole host of things.
Albeit slow, change is on the horizon in Saudi Arabia.
In June, women will finally be granted the right to drive.
During the last two weeks, the world has witnessed even more positive cultural change for both the men and women of Saudi Arabia.
Firstly, the Arab state ended its 35-year ban on cinemas with the help of a private screening of Black Panther.
— TimothyHollywoodKhan (@HollywoodKhan_) April 18, 2018
They also hosted their very first Fashion Week, held at the Apex Centre, Riyadh’s modern and iconic landmark designed by Dame Zaha Hadid.
Up until now, the idea of women in Saudi making their way down a runway in clothes that might be considered revealing was pretty much an outrageous pipe-dream that was never going to happen.
But 32-year-old heir to the thrown, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, is doing his bit to lead the country into the future with a refreshed sense of freedom and innovation.
Last week’s Arab Fashion Week in Riyadh was just one of the positive outcomes (and historic moments) to be born from his 2030 Vision, which hopes to modernise Saudi culture while investing in and supporting the younger generation.
The clothes were inspired, with many of Saudi Arabia’s top designers pulling out all the stops to exhibit modern, beautiful, and fashionable pieces.
Keep in mind, it has been a bumpy road to get to this point.
The Arab Fashion Council had initially scheduled Fashion Week for last month, but thanks to a number of alleged visa issues and problems with the weather, the event had to be pushed out not once, but twice.
This consequently meant that some brands and designers were no longer able participate in the shows, including Roberto Cavalli’s creative director, Paul Surridge.
According to Vogue, some of the designers and collections that did make it included everyone from Jean Paul Gaultier (who sent his Fall 2018 collection to the event), designer Tony Ward, Lebanese based designer, Naja Saade, and Saudi Arabian, Arwa Al Banawi.
During each show, ads for Harvey Nichols new flagship store in Riyadh were blasted onto giant screens, as was a new ad for BMW, which featured women wearing headscarves getting behind the wheel.
— Events Gate (@EventsGate) April 17, 2018
While the audience was only made up of women, and social media was a big no-no, these rules meant that without any men in attendance, women were able to wear whatever they wanted – and were free to decide whether they wanted to keep their abayas on or off.
By the sounds of it, there were some elements that could definitely be improved for next time (October this year if all goes well), but the fact that this Fashion Week happened at all is a moment worthy of pause and applause.
Hopefully this event will act as a catalyst for increased change that celebrates women’s rights and women’s freedom.
With more than 50% of Saudi university graduates being female, there’s never been a better time to support their potential, and ensure that male guardianship laws are abolished so that these women can have the chance to live their lives without gender-segregation that no doubt still impacts their health, their employment opportunities, and their rights as human beings.