Statement from HRH Ambassador Reema Bandar Al-Saud
"To those who seek to deny our women the same opportunities that others enjoy, I say that what I hear loudly and clearly is that there is no seat for me at their table."
January 30, 2024: In response to a recent opinion editorial, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United States of America, HRH Ambassador Reema Bandar Al-Saud issues the following statement:
As a woman who has dedicated her life to the cause of women, it pained me deeply to read a column in The Washington Post objecting to Saudi Arabia hosting the Women's Tennis Association Finals based on arguments that are outdated stereotypes and western-centric views of our culture. Failing to acknowledge the great progress women have made in Saudi Arabia denigrates our remarkable journey. Like many women around the world, we looked to the legends of tennis as trailblazers and role models...glimmers of hope that women truly could achieve it all. But these champions have turned their back on the very same women they have inspired and it is beyond disappointing. Sports are meant to be a great equalizer that offers opportunity to everyone based on ability, dedication and hard work. Sports should not be used as a weapon to advance personal bias or agendas...or punish a society that is eager to embrace tennis and help celebrate and grow the sport.
Sports are a powerful force for the advancement of women - your sisters, mothers and daughters - both in my country and around the world, East and West, North and South. Through sport, women can not only achieve their dreams on a court or field, but also drive social change. Who would deny them these dreams?
The authors say that they do not believe that the girls of Saudi Arabia should be able to watch a professional tennis tournament in their own country. Apparently, we are not ready. They say that Saudi law "essentially makes women the property of men." On this, let me simply say: get your facts straight. What is often referred to as "guardianship" no longer describes the status of Saudi women today. Women do not need the approval of a guardian to travel, work, or be the head of their household. Saudi women are in charge of their personal and financial future.
Today, Saudi women own more than 300,000 businesses, and roughly 25 percent of small and mid-size start-up companies, which is about the same percentage as in the United States. Every door is open to women, including the traditionally male-dominated sectors, such as the military, firefighting, law and law enforcement. There are even women astronauts. Women in Saudi Arabia now enjoy equal pay leading the way towards something that should be universal. While there's still work to be done, the recent progress for women, the engagement of women in the workforce, and the social and cultural opportunities being created for women are truly profound, and should not be overlooked.
So much has changed for women in Saudi Arabia. Today we not only have women's sports leagues and federations, we also have more than 330,000 registered female athletes, with 14,000 actively playing tennis. We have thousands of women coaches, mentors, referees, and sports doctors. Women participate across sports in local, regional, and international competitions - and win.
Yet it is at this time when we hear voices from overseas - even from those we honor and would welcome women-to-women conversations with - write us all off as the victims and the voiceless, whose desires should be relegated to trendy political arguments in favor of exclusion. This not only undermines the progress of women in sports, it sadly undermines women's progress as a whole.
You see, we are investing and committing to sport as part of a comprehensive program to be the best version of ourselves. It is not about you. It's about us.
I promise you, Olympic runner Yasmeen AlDabbagh, martial arts competitor Tahani AlQahtani, or rising tennis star Yara AlHogbani are not pushing their performance beyond what they believed possible to change your perceptions about their rights as women. These women are paving the path forward - for themselves, for their fellow Saudi girls and women, and for their country.
I am sure that some who oppose having a women's tennis tournament in Saudi Arabia may have noble intentions, and see themselves advocating for universal equality for women. We want the same thing - in Saudi Arabia, in other nations rich and poor, and in your backyards.
We recognize and welcome that there should be a healthy debate about progress for women. My country is not yet a perfect place for women. No place is. But progress is the one constant in Saudi Arabia, where women are advancing at a faster pace than perhaps anywhere else in the world. And we should all be engaging in a dialogue about our different paths, our unique obstacles and opportunities, and how we as women can reach our common destination.
Perfection cannot be the price for admission - for a tennis tournament, or any other once closed space that our women want to enter. We live in an imperfect world. But we should strive to make it better every day, from encouraging girls to pick up a racket to providing breast cancer awareness in rural areas or creating a curriculum for women to gain financial literacy - all campaigns that I have poured my heart and soul into. To me, true empowerment - the type I want my daughter to have - involves the opportunity and tools to make your own choices.
To those who seek to deny our women the same opportunities that others enjoy, I say that what I hear loudly and clearly is that there is no seat for me at their table. But I will welcome them at mine. Because my table isn't limited by political views, borders, race or geography. And I hope that they accept my invitation to sit at my table and meet the women that they may not have intended to inspire but their hard work nonetheless has. I hear you. You didn't fight for us. But as we continue to work to fulfill our dreams, we will look back at your journey and will carry your wins with us.
As President of the Women's Committee for the Saudi Olympic and Paralympic Committee and a member of the Gender, Equality & Inclusion Commission at the International Olympic Committee, I have a responsibility to share our narrative with the world - not for approval - but for productive dialogue. To fight for our common cause - not only in Saudi Arabia, but in other places where women no longer are content to sit on the sidelines.
The journey of women is riddled with imperfections. Saudi Arabia is no different. I accept that you may not want to believe me. And yet, I still thank you for giving me the opportunity to present my case. I open my doors to you with grace. Come to Saudi Arabia and be my guest.
Talk to the women and girls who are eager to be a part of your world and see the impact of your journey. Maybe then you will see the immense value of being part of theirs.