• It is important that this generation knows our history, not just in the media but in all sectors

RIYADH: From writing under pen names to not knowing how to dress appropriately or work with male colleagues, three Saudi female journalists have recalled the difficulties their predecessors faced working in the media during a session titled “Saudi women in media: Presence and representation” at the Saudi Media Forum (SMF) on Tuesday.
“In the past, there were many concerns,” one of the panelists, writer Dr. Fawzia Al-Bakr, said.
According to Al-Bakr, one of the main obstacles women had at the time was that they did not have the history or knowledge of what was acceptable to Saudi society, which left female presenters treading a fine line.
However, said Al-Bakr, the government was always supportive of women in the media — King Faisal was the first to help them emerge in the field via radio in the 1970s.
There were supportive Saudi male journalists, too, who used to write under female pen names to help pave the way for their colleagues, such as Ahmed Siba’i who wrote in The Voice of Hjiaz publication under the pen name “Hijazi girl.”
Al-Bakr cited the progress of the country, from women being able to drive, to having passports issued and their active participation in the workforce. “We have a historical responsibility today,” she said.
Omaima Al-Khamis, a Saudi journalist, said: “Female media existence in Saudi Arabia was hidden. In the beginning, their presence wasn’t accepted but slowly it came to be.”
Small steps forward go a long way towards reaching goals of being active, equal members of the media world, she added.
Al-Khamis noted that the first news outlet to have a women’s section was Riyadh Newspaper in 1989 — a time when media/journalism was not an option for women in colleges and universities.
“Of course, there were difficulties and obstacles, but they continued forward and persevered,” she said, adding: “The challenges are real and big, but let’s move forward not just locally, or regionally, but globally.”
Saudi women in the western media are misrepresented, according to Maha Akeel, director of the information department at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
“For the longest period, the Saudi woman’s voice was absent, so now we must speak. Vision 2030 has enabled us to. It’s difficult to change years of absence, but it must be done,” she said.
“There was always a gap. There would be someone to speak on a Saudi woman’s behalf in the past, but she was absent. That gave the western media (a chance) to create a narrative,” she added.
Most westerners, she said, assume that the identity of the Saudi woman is a burqa-clad female in black. While that is the case for some, it is not for all.
“Now we have support to empower and enable women,” she said.
She added that studying the journeys of pioneers is an essential part of learning a nation’s past and where its people have come from. “It is important that this generation knows our history, not just in the media but in all sectors.”