1966 video of Saudi girls school tells tales of reform then and now

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An old video of Saudi Arabia’s first school for girls, captured by a British reporter in 1966, shows glimpses of the remarkable pace of the country’s social revolution during that era.

The Dar al-Hanan School, which translates into “House of Affection”, can also be linked to the social reforms in the kingdom, taking place as part of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030.

The report contains video of a classroom in the school premises, where girl students could remain without veils, and includes an interview with two of its students. During the interview, one of the girls expresses her desire to study at universities abroad and then return to Saudi Arabia.

When asked about their lives in comparison to those of girls in western countries, the girls said they preferred their society and that contrary to widespread perception their lives were not dull.

“Westerners had stereotypes about Saudi women at the time, and this interview [by a British reporter] showed the true colors of Saudi Arabia: Saudi women were, and still are, educated, open-minded, and they lead normal lives,” said Eyman K., a graduate from Dar al-Hanan school in Jeddah.

Dar al-Hanan was established as an orphanage and care center for the needy in Jeddah in 1955. It was established under the patronage of Princess Effat al-Thunayan, wife of Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia at the time.

In 1957, Princess Effat agreed to the opening of an external department with annual fees for girls to study, as there were not too many schools for girls. At the time, many families would send their children abroad for primary and secondary education, and with the opening of Dar al-Hanan School, that was no longer needed.

Recent Saudi reforms

Recently, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has introduced a large number of social reforms as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which aims to increase women’s participation in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent.

In an interview with CBS in 2018, the crown prince referred to Saudi Arabia’s past. “This is not the real Saudi Arabia. [You] can google Saudi Arabia in the 70s and 60s, and [you] will see the real Saudi Arabia easily in the pictures,” he said.

The interview with the students of Dar al-Hanan in 1966 shows a glimpse of what he meant. Women in Saudi Arabia now have the right to easily start businesses, join the military, attend concerts and sporting events, and drive.

“Today, Saudi women still have not received their full rights. We have come a very long way and have a short way to go,” the crown prince said in the interview.

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