Jeddah: Social reforms unleashed by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman are bringing sweeping changes in the conservative kingdom, but none stand to benefit more than women. Glimpses of hair are starting to appear beneath headscarves, the lines segregating men from women are beginning to blur, and the government is slowly retreating from its once vigorous intrusion into women’s lives.
The country where women, for decades, had a restricted role in public, is now embracing their potential. Many nations, including India, have started deploying women diplomats to the country. In the Red Sea port city of Jeddah, the commercial capital of Saudi which has long been more liberal than the desert capital of Riyadh, is home to some women foreign diplomats. The Indian diplomatic mission here, too, is keeping up the changing times.
Hamna Mariam (27), who opted for IFS over IAS, was recently posted as a diplomat in Jeddah. Wife of Telangana cadre IAS officer Muzammil Khan, Mariam is the first ever woman IFS cadre officer to be posted in Saudi Arabia and second in the Gulf region.
Deepa Gopalan Wadhwa, who worked in Qatar, was the first woman Indian ambassador to the Gulf region. Interestingly, she is also a Malayali like Hamna. It is believed that Hamna was posted in Saudi Arabia after careful consideration of women empowerment in the changing scenario, besides other factors.
Life seems to be entirely different for Hamna as she stepped into a changed Saudi Arabia, where covering the head or wearing a black Abaya is now not mandatory. When Vasundhara Raje Scindia, then State Minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 2002, visited the Rajasthan Royal lady, she had to cover her head as Najma Heptulla did several times earlier.
Hamna goes to office here like she used to in India — she doesn’t cover her head with a scraf nor does she wear an Abaya, which reflects the changing scenario in the once rigid Kingdom. She was assigned to the commercial wing where she has a larger role to play — to boost Indian exports.
Saudi Arabia is India’s fourth largest trading partner with bilateral trade at $27.48 billion in 2017-18 and investment of around $100 billion is in the pipeline in diversified areas. She is expected to an play active role on behalf of India in the preparation for the upcoming G-20 summit in Saudi Arabia.