Khobar: Mervat Bukhari, a force of nature draped head-to-toe in Islamic niqab, braved insults to become the first Saudi woman to work at a gas station, something uni-maginable not long ago.
The kingdom, where conservatives once bridled at even limited freedoms for women, is in the midst of reforms that mark the biggest cultural shake-up in its modern history.
Kickstarted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the reforms incl-ude the historic decision allowing women to drive from June, attend soccer games and take on jobs that once fell outside the narrow confines of traditional gender roles.
But the backlash faced by women like Bukhari illustrates how newfound empowerment is a potential social lightning rod in a country unaccustomed to such visibility for women. When Bukhari, 43 and a mother of four, was promoted as supervisor of a gas station in eastern Khobar city last October, insults began pouring in on social media with the hashtag “Saudi women do-n’t work at gas stations”.
“I am a supervisor. I don't fill gas myself,” she reasoned. “Women today have the right to do any work.”
Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 reform plan seeks to elevate women.
Government statistics say over one million Saudi women are looking to enter workforce.