For the past decades, women in Saudi Arabia have faced driving and working bans. But thanks to women’s rights activists fighting for what they call the “Feminization” of the culture, more women are entering the workforce and labor laws are beginning to change. Because women historically have not been allowed to participate in the public realm, working women are unaccustomed to working and speaking to men who are not family members or salesmen, and they face new challenges each day.
The photographer Kate Brooks has spent the last year cataloguing the shift in Saudi Arabian women’s roles. She tells The New Yorker’s outstanding Elisa Curtis that the women she photographs struggle to open up: “they keep [stories] bundled up—close to their hearts—under their abayas, which give us understanding of what it is to be a woman in Saudi society.” But their passionate “desire for more independence, economic freedom from their husbands, their developing sense of rights, and the fact that they want to be able to independently provide for themselves and their children” drives them into unchartered territory.
These women are aware of their role in this uncertain and critical juncture for women’s rights, and that translates in Brook’s images: a group of Saudi women excitedly surround a cosmetics customer, and one applies some to her own eyes beneath a sign that reads “YES.” A beautiful wedding dress takes on new meaning when we see the women who are now able to sell and profit from them. The significance behind these women’s jobs in retail is revealed in sweeping gestures that indicate growing senses of empowerment. Take a look.
Thanks to The New Yorker
Images via Kate Brooks and The New Yorker
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