SXSW Interactive: Princess Reema and Women in the Saudi Workforce

Progress and continued struggle for women in Saudi Arabia

In the West, women’s champions fight for equal pay; in Saudi Arabia, they’re advocating for continued opportunities to work outside the home at all. Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al-Saud gave Saturday's Interactive keynote, interviewed by Robert Safian, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, which named her 2014’s Most Creative Person of the Year.

Photo by John Anderson

Working as chief executive of luxury retail corporation Alfa International, Princess Reema’s focus became respectful co-integration and an increase of women in the Saudi workforce. Though she says the government is now “1000% on board” with women working, cultural traditions are still prohibitive to shifting paradigms. To reduce obstacles, her company provides transportation and childcare for employees and a separate academy that teaches women fundamental skills essential to makeup artists and homemakers alike, she explained to applause.

On her female employees’ decision to be veiled or not, she said, “The value of what they’re doing is so phenomenal that if you could get over their appearance and finally, maybe try to judge a woman based on her capability rather than her appearance, I think we all, as a community – a global community – would go much farther.”

Adding to her “circle of hope,” Princess Reema aims for a well-rounded approach to empowerment. A high rate of late stage breast cancer diagnoses is, in part, because “talking about some body parts is taboo," preventing early detection. “We want to give them maximum exposure to health knowledge so that they can have self-knowledge and self-care as a mindset,” she explained. A short film debuted during the keynote, coinciding with the website launch of their upcoming Guinness record-breaking awareness campaign, 10KSA.

When asked about conservative push-back: "Am I ignorant enough to think that there won’t be people that are opposed to this? I am not. In every community, I think, you’ve got [those people]. But if you stand still, you give them the power to push you down. If you keep walking, they have to follow you. And I’d rather keep walking.”

Princess Reema’s Mission to Empower Saudi Women

Saturday, March 14, Austin Convention Center

Keep up with all our dispatches from SXSW at or follow our Festival alias at @ChronSXSW.

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

SXSW Adds 102 Movies to 2019 Film Festival Lineup
SXSW Adds 102 Movies to 2019 Film Festival Lineup
After Us, what else does the film fest have in store?

Richard Whittaker, Jan. 16, 2019

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Joins SXSW Speaker Roster
A$AP Rocky, Olivia Wilde, and the Fonz all join conference

Richard Whittaker, Jan. 15, 2019

More by Jessi Cape
Carpenters Hall Is Smart, Beautiful, and Almost Annoyingly Cool
Carpenters Hall Is Smart, Beautiful, and Almost Annoyingly Cool
The restaurant within Carpenter Hotel is a conceptual ode to German, Czech, and Texan cuisines

Jan. 18, 2019

Tito’s Vodka Debuts New Video Series to Shine a Light on Nonprofits
Tito’s Vodka Debuts New Video Series to Shine a Light on Nonprofits
Local organization for musicians HAAM is one of the lucky stars

Jan. 15, 2019


Princess Reema, SXSW Interactive 2015, SXSW, Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud, Alfa International, 10KSA

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle