Saudi Arabia often gets a bad wrap when it comes to how it treats its women. However, for those of us who have lived in the Kingdom, we know of the strength and abilities of Saudi women. They’re tenacious, eloquent, hard working and, in my view, a wonderful bunch. The latest media announcement coming out of the Kingdom has made headlines the world over.
On Sunday, the English-language newspaper Saudi Gazette announced that its editor-in-chief Khaled Almaeena would be stepping down from his role with immediate effect. Almaeena, who joined the Saudi Gazette in October 2011, penned his own farewell letter which was published on the newspaper’s front page. It’s a wonderful read and spells out Almaeena’s views on how a newspaper should be run and why editors should be pushing the boundaries when it comes to reporting contentious issues.
Unarguably the most important announcement made by Khaled and the Saudi Gazette that morning was the promotion of Somayya Jabarti to the top editorial position in the newspaper. I’m going to quote directly from Khaled’s piece:
Today I proudly leave my nominee, a female journalist — Somayya Jabarti — who will take the helm of the paper. She has been associated with me for almost 13 years, and I’ve had the goal almost as long of wanting to see a Saudi woman enter the male-dominated bastion of editors-in-chief. It was not a question of gender but of merit that decided and earned her this opportunity. I am proud to have played a role in her career. She is determined and dedicated, and I can assure her and the team that I will be there to assist and advise, so that Saudi Gazette further advances as a media unit in a highly competitive and digital age.
I’ve known of Somayya for many years and I’ve interacted with her on a number of occasions. She’s tenacious, independent and determined that she and her team cover the news without self-censoring the editorial (this is still a common trend in the Gulf). I’d go further however, and say that Somayya is representative of today’s Saudi women. Saudi women are often viewed from outside the Kingdom as oppressed, as in need of help and support.
However, my own experiences have often shown the opposite to be true. If anything, Saudi women are the most independent in the Gulf when it comes to wanting a career and earning a living. If anything, Somayya is proof of what Saudi women are capable of and how the Kingdom is changing. For me, what’s most telling is that this first didn’t happen in other Gulf states which often tout how they’re advancing women’s rights, but in Saudi. I often feel that the pressures Saudi women face mold them, make them become stronger and more focused. Saudi women have learned to fight and they’re no longer willing to wait for change or to accept what they’re being given with platitudes.
In the Kingdom all top editorial positions at the country’s newspapers are approved by the Ministry of Information and Culture and so Somayya’s appointment would have been given the government’s blessing. I’ll leave the last word to the lady herself, for an interview she gave with Al-Arabiya. I’m sure she’ll do her fellow Saudi women proud!
“There’s a crack that has been made in the glass ceiling. And I’m hoping it will be made into a door. This is a first for a Saudi daily… A mold has been broken where editors-in-chief of Saudi daily newspapers are concerned. Being the first Saudi woman [newspaper editor] is going to be double the responsibility… One’s actions will reflect upon my fellow Saudi women.”