Saudi Women in Media: Overcoming Obstacles
Saudi women have played a significant role in contemporary media, especially in the visual media, for many years. Discussing women's issues and shedding light on honorable women role models in numerous fields has contributed greatly to the current Saudi leadership's unprecedented support of expanding and restoring women's rights.
Saudi women in media have made remarkable progress, despite the fact that their presence in media is substantially less than men. Women have been totally banned from appearing on Saudi television since 1979. The recent return of women to Saudi television has provoked much controversy and opposition from conservative leaders.
Regardless, Saudi Arabia’s current leadership has moved to support and restore women's rights and to openly demonstrate the appreciation for the vital role of women in society. Saudi media companies are expected to expand the role of women substantially in the coming years.
Women in media have played an important role supporting new women entering the field. Television host Donia Bakr Younis is one of the first female TV announcers to appear on Saudi television. Her career goes back more than 30 years, during which time she presented many programs, especially children's programs. She is perhaps best known for her "Mum Donia" character.
Younis was the first Saudi broadcaster to present programs such as "Studio No. 5," "Half Moon Beach," and "Our Habits," a program broadcasted during the holy month of Ramadan. She was honored by the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information with a Certificate of Honor in 1991.
Similarly, Mona Abu Soliman is considered the first Saudi woman to appear on Arab satellite channels through the MBC TV as a co-host of the popular talk show "Kalam Nawaem” (The View-Like TV show) in 2002. She remains as co-host today and is considered one of the most famous founders of women's programming and for creating a forum for discussing issues related to Arab families and society.
The Saudi Women Media Center (AWMC) has played a central role in promoting women's participation in the media through training, professional support, and preparation of academic media studies. The Center was founded in 2003 by Nahed Bashtah, winner of the Arab Women Award in the field of journalism and information from the Arab Women Participation Studies Center in Paris in 2007.
In 2006, the Center launched the First Female Media Personnel Forum in Riyadh under the theme of "Women and Media: Methodology of Successful Development." The Forum was conducted under the auspices of Princess Adela Bint Abdullah, to discuss challenges facing women who work in media and ways to overcome them. The forum resulted in several recommendations, among them training and rehabilitating women in media to effectively participate in the ever-changing media profession.
The forum attendees also considered ways of providing more opportunities for women, to enhance their roles, and to appoint women to media positions that provide them with job security. Efforts to encourage institutions to avoid gender discriminate were also discussed.
Religious scholars were called upon to increase people’s awareness about the importance of women’s presence in media in developing Saudi society.
Spectacular role models
As a result of these efforts and many others, Saudi women in media personnel have earned the status they deserve. Many women have become famous, including Lojain Omran, presenter of the popular “Good morning Arabs!” Omran has more than a million Twitter followers.
During her career, Omran has presented several programs, among them "The Situation with Logine" in 2004 on Bahraini TV. She also presented "Ya Hala" on Rotana Khaleejia, as well as "Around the Gulf" and "World of Eve" until she reached a turning point in her career by moving to "Good Morning Arabs!" presented on Satellite Channel MBC1, a program that brings news about important events from around the world in addition to discussing people’s interests in health, society, and family issues. The program also presents the latest fashion trends and highlights news from the art world.
Another example of a media role model is Sara Al-Dandrawi, the presenter of "Your Interaction," who is also very popular—she has more than a million Twitter followers. Al-Dandrawi started her media career with Al-Arabiya's "Wellness Guide," a health program. She was a member of the jury of “Mass Competition. She was also a presenter on "Good Morning Arabs.”
In Al-Dandrawi’s current program, "Your Interaction," she presents prominent current topics from daily life, including controversial issues from the political, social, sports, and artistic arenas.
Many Saudi women have reached positions of leadership in the media business. Ahlam Al-Faqehi is serving as director of the family and children's department for Saudi TV, Channel One.
Sanaa Muamena was appointed director of Ajyal Satellite Channel in 2011, becoming the first female Saudi director of a satellite channel.
Muamena was chosen for this position based on her 17 years of experience in managing children's programming. Maha Aqeel is the Director of the Information Department of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) at the OIC general secretariat in Jeddah.
These are only three examples of the many Saudi women working in media both within and outside the Kingdom.
Saudi writer Nahed Saeed Mohammed Bashtah received her PhD in Cultural Media from University of Salford, UK.