Being in the public eye and the ‘threatening’ feedback it brings has been the biggest challenge faced by the Saudi Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel.
Al-Taweel is a Saudi-based philanthropist, entrepreneur, fashion icon, public speaker, and the CEO of Time Entertainment Holding, which comprises of four companies that invest in Arab youth in the media and technology industry.
The biggest challenge she has faced is being in the limelight, “when your cause becomes bigger than yourself,” she told Al Arabiya News.
“The downside is that you don’t spend much quality time with the people you love even though God knows you are trying,” Al Taweel said.
Her busy schedule is not the only challenge, with her outspoken nature having attracted the ire of some of Saudi Arabia’s conservatives.
Al-Taweel is a prominent women’s rights advocate, and has appeared in the global media to speak out against the status of women in Saudi Arabia and the broader Middle East and North Africa.
“I get a lot of negative feedback, sometimes threatening feedback,” she said.
Despite receiving negative remarks from some, she said her belief in her “cause” and the other positive feedback for her work is what keeps her going.
Al-Taweel is also the chairwoman and co-founder of Tasamy Social Initiatives Center, a foundation that funds and facilitates volunteering initiatives across Saudi Arabia.
“When we first started Tasamy we noticed that in Saudi Arabia there are only 800 NGOs,” said Al-Taweel.
“When we did our research on why young people don’t want to start their own NGOs or be part of the non-profit scene, they all said ‘it is not going to make money. It’s unsustainable. It’s not going to be good enough for me. I’d rather be in government or the private sector’,” Al Taweel added.
But many young Saudis have now started their own NGOs, after going through Tasamy training programs.
Mohammed Saad, a visually-impaired young Saudi who boasts at least 26,700 followers on Twitter, started an NGO with the help of Tasamy to help train visually-impaired people on how to use social media.
“We are the ones who just go there and say ‘Why not? Why can’t you do it?’,” Al Taweel said. “So we just give them more guidance. We are like the backwind for them… We hope that in the next couple of years we will have many more success stories.”
Al-Taweel participated in “Wired Women”, a panel discussion held on Wednesday at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit. She spoke about the positive role social media has in evolving the business environment in the region and in involving more women.
Social media has provided a “free platform” for women to enjoy an “equal opportunity” to express themselves in a way the “real world” does not guarantee, said Al-Taweel.
“Social media has absolutely no criteria. Everyone can participate and anyone can start a discussion and a hashtag,” she said.
Social media has opened people’s minds, with many conservative scholars “who used to be against women speaking” now debating with women on sites like Twitter, Al-Taweel added.
“It is now even giving the woman an opportunity to send [the scholars] a message and to raise her voice,” Al Taweel said. Likewise, scholars are given the opportunity to change preconceptions about women sitting at home, and not have a voice.
Speaking about struggles that keep women in the region from joining the workforce, Al-Taweel spoke of the “double-burden syndrome, where [women] have to take care of our homes and also have careers.”
“Women tend to make the toughest choice of staying at home and taking care of their children,” she said. She added that the ratio of women in top management executive committees and boards is less than 1 percent in the GCC and the Middle East – the lowest in the world.
“It is even more difficult for women to be in the media,” Al Taweel added. “I feel that the reason why you don’t see many women in the media is that media as an industry is completely exhausting. You have to be on 24/7.”
But she is optimistic, given that she sees more women joining the media workforce.
“I see progress… I see women starting their own production hubs, their own [advertising] agencies,” said Al Taweel.
“If we just keep complaining that we don’t have jobs… and we sit at home and do nothing, my children are going to be complaining. And their grandchildren are going to be complaining. And we are going to be in an endless cycle,” she said.
“It’s easy to say that things are difficult… and that you are just a drop in the sea. But you and a million other drops can create a wave that can change our society.”