Safi, a 26-year-old Saudi doctor, stands in the center of Riyadh on June 19, 2022 (AFP/Fayez Noureddine)
When Safi started her new job in a hospital in Riyadh, she decided to choose, in addition to her white coat and sneakers, a hairstyle that Saudi Arabia had once imagined: short hair.
The 26-year-old doctor went to a hair salon to cut her long wavy hair, adopting a style that is becoming increasingly popular among young Saudi women.
The syllable “boy”, known locally by the English word “boy”, was seen more and more on the streets of the capital of this ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom.
Some women have even taken off their headscarves, encouraged by the societal changes that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has led in recent years.
Women are called to be more active in the context of diversifying and modernizing the economy to make it less dependent on oil.
They describe this new trendy story as more practical.
Safi, who asked to be identified under a pseudonym, points out that this new look is also a way to protect against unwanted male gazes.
“People like to see femininity in a woman,” she says. “This method is like a shield that protects me from people and gives me strength,” she told AFP.
In a salon in central Riyadh, the “boyish” haircut has gained so much popularity, with nearly a third of clients ordering it, says hairstylist Lamis.
“The demand has increased, especially since women entered the labor market,” she told AFP, declining to reveal her surname.
“The fact that many women don’t wear the hijab has only increased its popularity,” she adds, prompting more clients to try it out, especially younger ones.
– “no time” –
L’influence de la police religieuse, qui jadis imposait des règles strictes comme l’obligation de porter le voile, a été largement marginalisée avec l’ascension ces cinq dernières années du prince Mohammed, dirigeant de facto du pays de auj years.
Safi, a 26-year-old Saudi woman, proudly displays her “boyish” haircut in Riyadh on June 19, 2022 (AFP/Fayez Noureddine)
Saudi women can now attend concerts or sports competitions alongside men, drive and travel without the permission of a male relative.
However, these reforms have been accompanied by a fierce suppression of dissenting voices, particularly women’s rights activists, in a country that is certainly changing but still considered particularly authoritarian by international NGOs.
Princess Haifa Al Saud, deputy tourism minister, said at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month that the government had initially hoped that women would make up 30% of the labor market by 2030, but that percentage has already reached 36%.
“Today we see women in all kinds of jobs,” she said, noting that 42% of small and medium-sized enterprises are owned by women.
Among them is Abeer Mohammed who describes herself as a “pragmatic woman”. “I don’t have time to take care of my hair,” the 41-year-old woman who runs a men’s clothing store told AFP.
The mother of two explains, “My hair is curly. If it grows too long, I will have to spend as much time on that which I don’t have in the morning.”
– ‘Women’s power’ –
Saudi Arabia traditionally forbids men to “imitate women” or wear women’s clothing, and vice versa.
But Rose, 29, a mall shoe salesman, sees her short hair as a way to assert her independence from men, not to imitate them.
“It gives me strength and self-confidence. I feel different and able to do whatever I want without anyone’s guardianship,” the young woman told AFP. Full name.
“At first, my family rejected this look, but over time they got used to it,” she says.
Nouf, who works in a cosmetics store, also sees a “boyish” haircut as a way to assert herself.
“We want to say that we exist and that our role in society is not very different from that of men,” she told AFP, without naming her family. Short hair for her is “a testament to the strength of a woman.”