This Saudi Woman is Challenging Stereotypes by Taking to the Stage

Motivated by the goal of breaking down stereotypes of Saudi women in the West, Maisah Sobaihi took her passion for acting to the European Union.

Sobaihi was the first academic Saudi woman to perform in the EU, staging one woman shows with an underlying social and cultural context. Sobaihi is currently an assistant professor at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, and began her theatrical career after graduating from that university.

She also holds a PhD in English Literature from the University of London.

Sobaihi was the first Saudi woman to perform at Edinburgh Festival, one of the oldest and most prestigious arts showcases in the world. She performed a play entitled “Upside Down,” which explored the theme of polygamy.

Tackling Stereotypes and Pushing Change

One of Sobaihi’s goals is to change the perceptions of Saudi social issues on a global level.

“Changing the stereotype of the West over Saudi women is primarily the responsibility of the Saudis. There is an urgent need to advertise the image of Saudi women, instead of leaving room for the spread of misconceptions and misrepresentations,” Sobaihi said.

Indeed, Saudi women have made great strides in areas ranging from education to employment. Not only are women like Sobaihi pushing the boundaries of women in the arts, but they are also stepping in to fill high-level leadership roles, such as the Saudi Stock Exchange and a major airport and literally conquering mountains while advocating for women in sports. The Saudi government itself confirmed its commitment to empowering women by explicitly setting goals relating to women in the workplace in its Vision 2030 plan.

Sobaihi is also hoping to contribute to increasing the prevalence of theatrical arts in Saudi Arabia itself, particularly as institutions such as the Society of Culture and Arts and the Entertainment Commission turn their attention to the theater.

“I am looking forward to working with these institutions and performing plays in Arabic so that we can develop the culture of theater in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Entertainment and culture are two other areas tackled explicitly in the Vision 2030 program, with government recognition that the promotion of physical, psychological and social well-being is critical to its long term development. The plan lays out its intention to encourage the formation of more than 450 registered and professionally organized clubs providing a variety of cultural activities and entertainment events by 2020.

Read the full story and watch Sobaihi’s performance on Al Arabiya English.