Riyadh (AFP) – When Saudi doctor Safi took on a new job at a hospital in the capital, she decided to offset her standard white coat with a look she would once have considered dramatic.
Walking into a salon in Riyadh, she ordered the hairdresser to cut her neck-length, wavy locks, a style increasingly popular among working women in the conservative kingdom.
The haircut – known locally as the English word “boy” – has become strikingly visible on the streets of the capital, and not just because women are no longer required to wear the hijab under social reforms pushed by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia.
As more women join the workforce, a central part of the government’s efforts to remake the Saudi economy, many describe the “boyish” cut as a practical and professional alternative to the longer styles they might have prefer before working.
For Safi, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym to preserve her anonymity, the look also serves as a form of protection from unwanted male attention, allowing her to focus on her patients.
“People like to see femininity in a woman’s appearance,” she said. “This style is like a shield that protects me from people and gives me strength.”
A practical time saver
At a salon in central Riyadh, demand for the “boy’s” cut has skyrocketed – with seven or eight customers out of 30 requesting it every day, said Lamis, a hairdresser.
“This look has become very popular now,” she said. “The demand has increased, especially after women entered the labor market.
“The fact that many women don’t wear the hijab has highlighted its spread” while prompting even more customers to try it, especially women in their late teens and twenties, he said. she declared.
The lifting of the headscarf requirement is just one of many changes that have reshaped the daily lives of Saudi women under Prince Mohammed, who was named heir to his 86-year-old father, King Salman, a while ago. five years.
Saudi women are no longer banned from concerts and sporting events, and in 2018 they won the right to drive.
The kingdom has also relaxed so-called guardianship rules, meaning women can now obtain passports and travel abroad without permission from a male relative.
These reforms have, however, been accompanied by a crackdown on women’s rights activists, as part of a broader campaign against dissent.
Getting more women into work is a major part of Prince Mohammed’s Vision 2030 reform plan to make Saudi Arabia less dependent on oil.
The plan initially called for women to make up 30% of the workforce by the end of the decade, but that figure has already risen to 36%, Deputy Tourism Minister Princess Haifa Al said last month. -Saud, at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“We see women today in every type of job,” Princess Haifa said, noting that 42 percent of small and medium-sized businesses are owned by women.
Many active women interviewed by AFP praised the “boy” cut as a tool to navigate their new professional life.
“I’m a practical woman and I don’t have time to worry about my hair,” said Abeer Mohammed, a 41-year-old mother of two who runs a men’s clothing store.
“My hair is curly, and if my hair grows long, I’m going to have to spend time that isn’t available to me taking care of it in the morning.”
‘Show of strength’
Saudi Arabia traditionally bans men who “imitate women” or wear women’s clothing, and vice versa.
But Rose, a 29-year-old shoe saleswoman at a Riyadh mall, sees her close-cropped hair as a way to assert her independence from men, not imitate them.
It “gives me strength and self-confidence…I feel different and able to do what I want without anyone’s tutelage,” said Rose, who declined to give her full name.
“At first my family rejected the look, but over time they got used to it,” she added.
Such acceptance partly reflects the influence of Arab stars like actress Yasmin Raeis or singer Shirene who have embraced the style, said Egyptian designer Mai Galal.
“A woman who cuts her hair this way is a woman with character because it’s not easy for women to do without their hair,” Galal told AFP.
Nouf, who works in a cosmetics store and preferred not to give his last name, described the message of the “boy” cut as follows: “We want to say that we exist, and our role in society does not differ not much of that of Men.”
Short hair, she added, is “a show of female strength”.
© 2022 AFP