In Saudi Arabia, one of the most religiously conservative societies in the Middle East, women are not allowed to vote or to drive a car. Men and women are segregated in most public spaces and work environments. A strict dress code enforced by religious police mandates that women cover their heads and bodies in public, where they must always be accompanied by a husband or other male guardian.
In ‘Saudi Solutions’, filmmaker Bregtje van der Haak, the first Western filmmaker ever granted permission to film the lives of Saudi women, takes us inside this closed society where fewer than five percent of women work. She profiles several women with professional careers—including a journalist, a doctor, a photographer, a television newsreader, a university professor, and the nation’s first female airplane pilot-and asks them to explain what it means to be a modern woman in a fundamentalist Islamic society.
In an interview with Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, owner of Kingdom Holding Company and fifth richest man in the world, ‘Saudi Solutions’ finds an isolated enclave of progressive attitudes toward women. In his office building and private palace, half of the employees are women, who are unveiled and dressed in the latest fashions, although “the ladies” work, he emphasizes, in an “Islamically correct” environment.
In discussing their everyday lives and concerns, the women are surprisingly defensive of Saudi social customs, arguing that, while they see the desirability of gradual social reform, they see no conflict between Islamic law and the rights of women. They are especially resistant to Western pressures to abandon their value system for one imposed on them from outside.
In offering Western audiences a fascinating and often shocking look at the social status of women in Saudi Arabia, ‘Saudi Solutions’ also reveals that while Saudi society may be one in transition, involving a delicate balance between religious tradition and modernizing influences, the pace of change will be dictated by the Saudis themselves.