Friday, October 29, 2010

Pink Ribbon Earns KSA Place in History

Photo Credit Rania Rezek

Women in Saudi Arabia made history last night, shattering the existing Guinness Book of World Records in the formation of the largest human pink ribbon chain emphasizing global awareness in the battle against breast cancer.

I don't know if the rest of the world actually realizes or appreciates what a seemingly impossible feat this really was to achieve in such a deeply cultured, strictly religious, and male-dominated society like Saudi Arabia where women are hidden behind black drapes when out in public. KSA has a reputation for being known as a place where women should not be seen or heard from, where women must have a legal male guardian all their lives, and where the rights of women are seen by the rest of the world as being limited, antiquated, and oppressed.

Logistically speaking, the odds were against us. Since females are prohibited from driving here in the "Magic Kingdom," what that means is that every single woman who participated in the event - except those who may have been close enough to walk to the site - was driven to the venue by a man.

Organizing and pulling off a stunt like this was a daunting task in a country where mass gatherings are discouraged and where men and women mingling together in public places is strictly forbidden. There were no men allowed inside the Ministry of Education Sports Stadium, which had never before been used to host an event for women. In fact I was told by an event organizer that the management of the stadium had initially refused to open the stadium for women. A call from higher powers quickly corrected that issue and the management was on board. Other male protesters in law enforcement and city government who voiced their objections were also quashed, and their objections turned into offers of assistance and support.

I also learned that the religious authorities were in a tizzy (no surprise here) over the fact that women would be gathering together like this en masse. However, at every turn the objectors were overruled. The event's organizers had gone through all the proper channels, followed protocol, received approvals and official documents from every required governmental agency, and had the full support of the government to proceed with this monumental occasion. In fact, if it weren't for the major clout backing this event, women in Saudi Arabia would likely have never been able to pull it off. The clout I'm speaking of responsible for the conception and implementation of this ground-breaking event was Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan and the Zahra Breast Cancer Association of which she is a founding member.

I had the honor and privilege of meeting Princess Reema at the event last night and was taken aback when she thanked me for the post I had written announcing this event and told me she reads my blog! I awkwardly apologized for sometimes complaining about things here in KSA and lamely joked with her that there wasn't much else for me to do here. She was very gracious, charming and regal, while at the same time being so very normal and approachable - exactly the way I imagine a princess should be.

We arrived at the stadium shortly after 5pm, when the gates were opened. There was already quite a large crowd of women, with more and more arriving with every passing minute. Once inside the gate, there was a table where we had to obtain ticket stubs in order to then go to another table to get our pink hooded ponchos which were provided free of charge to all attendees. Because of the enormous crowd of women, this process took at least half an hour. There were also a variety of booths for sponsors, including Zahra Breast Cancer Association, Al Bidayah Breastfeeding Resource and Women's Awareness Center, and Avon. Free bottled water was also available.

For weeks beforehand, the old stadium was readied for the event. The bathrooms were renovated and the hole-in-the-ground toilets were replaced with regular seated toilets. I'm guessing that there are only men's toilets at the facility since women had historically never been allowed to attend any events held there before this because of this society's strict gender segregation policies. The grassy field was watered and tended to and was perfectly manicured. I can't recall ever seeing that much grass in one place here in Saudi Arabia since I've been here! The VIP section in the center was furnished with nice padded chairs for special guests (including me!), and there were beautiful large throne-like chairs where the princesses in attendance were seated.

The daytime temperature had reached an irritable and stifling 100F (37C) and the humidity was a muggy 70%. Needless to say, that stadium was packed with a lot of uncomfortable sweaty women who were anxious and excited to come together for a common cause despite the weather conditions. Every single woman had to be counted by the Guinness representative before she was allowed to do the Avon Walk for the Cure on the track around the grassy field, which had been carefully marked into the pattern shaped into the large breast cancer awareness ribbon. I was part of the first group of 100 to be counted and to begin the journey around the track. As we passed the grandstands where thousands of women were seated, waiting for their turns to be counted, the women began cheering and waving and singing the Saudi national anthem. Excitement was in the air - it was phenomenal and very uplifting.

Estimates were that there were about 6000 women total in attendance, however some were unable to stay the entire time due to transportation issues. The crowd was made up of not just Saudi women, but included expats from many countries around the world including the USA, England, Europe, and many Asian and African countries. I met young women from at least two local international schools who were tranported there by the busfuls. I also met women who had flown in from Riyadh just for this event and others who had driven from Mecca and Taif. Even in the sweltering heat and in the midst of only females, some of the women who came still felt compelled to wear their face veils because of all the cameras around.

There were also hundreds of volunteers who assisted in so many ways to make the event a success. It took well over an hour for the ribbon formation to take shape and be filled in. Those of us who were first on the field began to sit on the grass. We were already all hot, sticky, and sweaty anyway, so it wasn't like we were concerned about getting a little grass, insects, or dirt on us at that point! And actually sitting on the grass made me cool down a little bit. Slowly the sea of women dressed in pink ponchos united for a cause became the symbol for Breast Cancer Awareness. The exact official count has not yet been released by Guinness, however it is clear that Saudi Arabia exceeded the German record of 3640 participants set in 2007.

The heat, the humidity, the crowds, the pushing, the waiting, the standing, the discomfort, the sweating - was it all worth it? YES!!!

This was an historic achievement in so many ways for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I think it shows that Saudi Arabia wants to be an active and integral part of the modern global community. I also feel that it indicates that Saudi Arabia doesn't want to be perceived as that strange and oppressive country that many people around the world fear or criticize because it has always been such a mystery. I think this event also shows that the royal family and many people of Saudi Arabia want the country to progress and are not afraid of change if it's for the good of the country. I hope I'm right!

At any rate, I am proud to say that I was there; I was part of it.

Arab News article "Saudi Pink Ribbon Breaks Guinness Record."

Saudi Gazette article "Kingdom Breaks World Record."

Click here for the Guinness Website article and awesome photos about another breast cancer awareness record that was broken on October 1st.


  1. This is the first time I am happy to send kudos regarding SA. What a fabulous event for a great cause. It seems that you are more highly regarded than you thought. What an experience! Hopefully this is a sign of the future for all the women who deserve a better place in that society. The organizers were very brave and efficient, getting all their ducks in a row to make this happen. Wow!

    (Please...Don't forget to send me photos of the djembe drums you painted).

  2. Susie, I am so happy and proud that you were able to attend this! What a monumental task to put this together and the women of Saudi did it! Who would have ever thought! The men have been put on notice! Saudi women can do anything that they put their minds to!!! Masha'Allah

  3. Awesome post Susie! Better than any newspaper report i have read! :)

  4. Hi Lori - I know I complain a lot, but it's really not all bad here. I'm so happy to be able to report about an event like this that shows there is still lots of hope and there are many strong women here who can make a difference.

    Hi Diane - Me too! Even though it was miserably hot and uncomfortable, I am so glad that so many determined women achieved this distinction together.

    Hi Afifa - Wow, thanks so much. As a blogger, I have a bit more leeway than newspapers in interjecting my own personal spins and experiences - and I enjoy being able to write that way.

  5. Awesome! What a wonderful thing you all did and an exciting thing to be part of! Congratulations!!

  6. Susie - what an amazing and inspiring event - for women battling breast cancer and their families and also for all the women of Saudi Arabia. It truly was a historic event of epic proportion on so many levels, as you pointed out! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with the rest of us!

  7. Susie, I have only recently began reading your blog and consequently, some of your links, since I met you on Saudiwoman's driving blog! That is an absolutely AMAZING feat that you managed to organize!! You must be so proud of yourself! The women of Saudi deserve many kudos for their determination in participating in such an event.
    I will be moving to Saudi at the end of November and my only regret - so far- is that we will be far from you in Riyadh.
    Keep up the brilliant work.


  8. Congratulations for being a part of the history am so very thankful that you were there and very glad to share that amazing moment with us and very happy that you meet the princess... mabrook :)

  9. My friend and I were just outside the stadium taking photos of the pigeons and a cat that day. We even saw a long pink limo. We really wanted to go inside, but I think we're not allowed.

  10. I forgot to say something. Too bad, I also wanted to blog about this, but I wasn't able to get in. Maybe next time. God bless Susie!

  11. That is so fantastic Susie!! I am slowly learning a lot about KSA. It is a wonder that UAE don't follow suit as they love being bigger & better than anyone else. lol

  12. Hi Jeanette - Thank you!

    Hi SGIME - It really was epic and it says volumes about the strength of the women of KSA.

    Hi RobinRcks! I didn't have anything to do with the planning and organizing other than to get the word out and then showing up. It was the work of many motivated women.
    Welcome to my adventure. I haven't been to Riyadh yet but I hope to go one of these days... Best Wishes to you in your move to KSA. And thanks!

    Hi MightyDacz - I think you would have been amazed to see all these women wearing the pink ponchos everywhere - it was a cool sight!

    Hi Pepe - How cool that you were outside! Sorry men weren't allowed in, but that's the way things are done here in KSA. A pink limo in KSA? Wow!

    Hi Melody - And I don't know that much about UAE - I'd really like to go there one day though. Thank you.

  13. I was also there! Susie, I love what you wrote! It's just great :)
    I'd like to know more about you!
    It was wonderful being there on thursday, I hope its a start of more awesome things like this!
    Haninn <3

  14. Wow, so inspiring. I live in the US and sometimes I still feel "stuck"... work, home, home work... kids, dinner, baths, etc. But you've inspired me to DO something worthwhile (not that my kids aren't, but you know what I mean). Awesome! What a privelage to have been there! I'm going to start looking for volunteer/charitable events in my area. Thanks!

  15. Great post! It's so awesome that you were there.

    I am new to your blog and following you. I would love if you stopped by my blog and followed me.


  16. Susie,
    Thank you for posting this and for taking part. I hadn't heard of it - I'm so bummed. Reading about this historical, moving event brings tears to my eyes and gives me just a bit more hope this morning for our sisters in Saudi. It's so inspiring.

  17. The first thing I thought was how did they get all that pink material where the usual must be black.

    A feat indeed, considering as you say, all the logisitics involved.

    I wonder if the princess will find you a "job".

  18. AMAZING!
    I am truly impressed of the women who have organized this. A fantastic achievement.

  19. This event represents the Saudi hypocracy at its best!!!

    The organization really sucks!!

    I was there and i concluded that there are no ladies in Saudi Arabia!!

    Behind the scenes, women were fighting, shouting, swearing at each other, uttering very bad and filthy words, pushing and stampeding!!

    No organization whatsoever!!
    No class!!
    No cleanliness!!
    No plan or mapping on the part of the organizers!
    All the organization that was done, was only inside the stadium where the cameras could see!!!

    The women who were fighting and shouting are truly a disgrace!!

    I left with a very sad feeling...there is no hope in refining such savages!!!

    Ashamed to be a Saudi woman!!

  20. Susie, many congratulations on the world record. It just goes to prove what people power can do, even in the Kingdom.

  21. your last two events are so nice - I bet you are looking forward to the next one and congratulations on your VIP status

  22. Well done, girls.

    Congrats from Poland :)

  23. So the Princess reads your blog. My questions is, 'does she comment on it'? I've sometimes wondered if the people commenting on your blog are clerics, royalty or other never know :)

  24. hey - Susie, that last comment on comments was me (2Shea) - I hit the enter button too fast!

  25. Well done, Susie!
    And all power to the Pink Ladies!
    May the ball keep rolling!!

  26. Hi Susie,
    I enjoy reading your blog. Wow, this event was awesome!! You are so lucky to be a part of this!!


  27. WOW, Double WOW!
    It's amazing how things came together to accomplish such a feat.
    Who says Saudi women have no voice?I think this event proved otherwise.

  28. Fantastic, and I’m very proud of you for enduring the heat and crowd. It must have been hard but I can see it was well worth it. Congratulations!

  29. Hi Haninn - I'm glad you were able to be there too - it was such an awesome experience to be a part of it. I think it was a huge step for the women fo KSA.

    Hi Gigi - Thanks!

    Hi Angel - There are so many things we can do in our communities, but in places like KSA, it's harder to find out about them. Good for you, Angel!

    Hi Maggie - I'll check out your blog - thanks!

    Hi Lani - I'm sorry you didn't hear about it ahead of time. It's much harder to get the word out here than other places.

    Hi Djd - The organizers had 7000 pink capes made up! I saw many women who actually tore the seam apart so they could wrap them around their heads the way they like.

  30. Hi MammaMia - Thanks so much!

    Hi Anon@11:58AM - There was a lot of thought and organization that went into this event. Things are bound to go wrong when you are dealing with the sheer number of women involved and an event of this magnitude. Your experience was totally different from mine. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy yourself and you came into contact with some women who didn't behave themselves. For Saudi Arabia, this was still an amazing feat and I hope in the future you may look back and feel proud that you were actually a part of it.

    Hi Karen - Thanks!

    Hi Oman - It feels good to be able to report on these types of things and see that there are good things going on here in KSA.

    Hi Aga - Thanks so much!

  31. Hi 2Shea - I don't know if the princess comments on my blog. I'm sure if she did, she would mask her identity anyway. I sometimes don't realize who may be out there reading what I've written - it's something to consider!

    Hi Philbee - The Pink Ladies Rock!

    Hi Andrea - I do feel lucky to have been a part of it. I'm happy.

    Hi Always - I think you're right - it says a lot about the women of KSA!

    Hi HC - The worst thing for me was definitely the heat - I just can't take it in my old age...

  32. This is my first time i visit here. I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! keep up the good work.

  33. А! Siamo un gruppo di volontari e di partenza una nuova iniziativa in una comunità. Il tuo blog ci ha fornito preziose informazioni su cui lavorare. Avete fatto un lavoro meraviglioso!

  34. آخر حقا بلوق بالمعلومات هنا يا صديقي. أردت فقط أن أقول التعليق والحفاظ على جودة العمل. لقد مرجعية أنا بلوق الخاص بك الآن فقط وسأعود لقراءة المزيد في المستقبل يا صديقي! كذلك حسن اختيار الألوان على موضوع وغني بشكل جيد مع بلوق في رأيي المتواضع :)

  35. Thanks for this wonderful post.Admiring the time and effort you put into your blog and detailed information you offer..

  36. I confess this bring tearfulness and joy to me at the same time! when i heard of this I was in AWE! Unfortunatly I couldn't participate. But seeing this picture really makes me feel extremely happy!
    God bless us everyone!

  37. Very good stuff.