Saudi women opt for masculine haircuts

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When Safi started her new job at a Riyadh hospital, in addition to wearing her white coat and slippers, she decided to opt for a male haircut, a choice previously unimaginable in Saudi Arabia.

The 26-year-old doctor went to a hair salon to have her long, wavy hair cut into a style that is becoming increasingly popular with young Saudi women.

The “boy” cut (known locally as “boy”) is increasingly seen on the streets of the capital of this conservative Gulf country.

Some women have even removed their veils, encouraged by the social changes promoted in recent years by Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman.

Women are called to be increasingly active, within the framework of a diversification and modernization of the economy that seeks to make the country less dependent on oil.

Safi, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym, stresses that this “look” protects her from unwanted male gazes.

“People like to see femininity in a woman,” he tells AFP. “This style is like a shield that protects me from people and gives me strength,” she adds.

At a barbershop in central Riyadh, the “boy” cut has gained popularity, with almost a third of customers demanding it, says Lamis, an employee.

“The demand has increased, especially since women joined the labor market,” explains Lamis, who does not want to reveal his last name.

“The fact that many women do not wear the veil increased its popularity,” which led more clients to try it, especially the younger ones, he told AFP.

The influence of the religious police, which once imposed strict rules, such as the obligation to wear the veil, has been largely marginalized with the rise in the last five years of Prince Mohammed, the country’s de facto leader, now 36.

Currently, Saudi women can attend concerts or sports competitions alongside men, drive cars and travel without the permission of a male relative.

However, these reforms are accompanied by a fierce repression of dissenting voices, particularly women’s rights activists, in a country that, although evolving, continues to be considered particularly authoritarian by international NGOs.

The government initially expected women to make up 30% of the labor market by 2030, but the proportion has already reached 36%, Princess Haifa Al Saud, deputy tourism minister, reported at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month.

“Today we see women in all types of employment,” he said, noting that 42% of small and medium-sized businesses are owned by women.

Traditionally, Saudi Arabia forbade men to “imitate women” or wear female clothing, and vice versa.

But Rose, 29, a shoe saleswoman at a mall, sees her short hair as a way of asserting her independence from men, not imitating them.

“It gives me strength and confidence. I feel different, and capable of doing what I want without anyone’s tutelage,” the young woman told AFP, without giving her full name.

“At first, my family rejected that aspect, but over time they got used to it,” he says.

Nuf, who works in a cosmetics store, also sees the “boy” cut as a way to assert herself. “We want to say that we exist, that our role in society does not differ much from that of men,” he told AFP, also without giving his last name.

For her, short hair is simply “a show of women’s strength.”

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