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"Pioneering Personalities in Saudi Arabia. Women who are Driving Change"

A Review

By Ahmad Sas - In the context of Saudi Arabia’s social and economic reforms, led by King Salman and the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Jesusa Alvarez Ayala’s book, Pioneering Personalities in Saudi Arabia: The Women who are Driving Change, focuses on social aspects of the unfolding Saudi Vision 2030 project. The book is based on the biographies of leading women on Saudi Arabia’s social level and on a series of interviews of Saudi women in leadership positions. The book aims to break the stereotypes surrounding women in Saudi Arabia by presenting role models who had a significant influence on the country’s reform.


Ayla is a Spanish feminist biographer and social activist, and she was inspired to draft this work following her 2014 biography of Thouraya Obaid-- a former director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and currently a member of Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council (Senate.) Along with Obaid, Ayla drafted the biography of eight other leading figures who made a remarkable impact throw out their careers, despite the challenges that they faced. Notably, they helped lay down much of the Saudi Vision 2030’s foundations. The book also highlighted the challenges these pioneering personalities faced and their backgrounds, their significant personal touch. Moreover, the diversity in their professions and achievements breaks several clichés with regards to women in Saudi Arabia.


The second part of the book is dedicated to specific parts of the Vision 2030 concerned with the improvement of women’s impact in society. Specifically, the role women played in the reform process consisted in influencing their engagement in the Shura Council, the education process, personal accomplishments and the role of women in economic innovation, reducing unemployment and building-up the middle class.  This part contains a selection of interviews with some of the women who took part in this reform process and hold position in social associations and governmental institutions. These interviews aimed to track the process of societal reforms and the expectations they generate.


Additionally, Ayla highlighted a very important perspective: permitting women to drive, attend sporting events, and the gradual opening up of Saudi society is only the beginning of a long journey which will lead women, and Saudi Arabia, into the future.


24 May 2019

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