Saudi Arabia to make debut at Miss Universe pageant

In a historic first, Saudi Arabia will be represented at the Miss Universe beauty pageant this year, as the conservative kingdom moves toward more women’s rights reforms.

Rumy al-Qahtani, a 27-year-old Saudi model and social media influencer, will take part in the global beauty pageant, which takes place in Mexico in September.

Qahtani revealed the news of her debut in Miss Universe in a post on her Instagram account on Monday.

“I am honored to participate in the Miss Universe 2024 competition. This is the first participation of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the Miss Universe competition,” she wrote in her post.

Qahtani is a beauty pageant veteran and actively shares with her 1 million followers her journey and participation in numerous beauty competitions. She has won several pageants since she was crowned Miss Saudi Arabia in 2021, including the Miss Middle East and Miss Arab World Peace titles. According to the women’s magazine Laha, Qahtani was born in Riyadh and has a degree in dentistry. She is also fluent in Arabic, French and English.

Saudi Arabia’s debut at Miss Universe marks another milestone for the Islamic country as it seeks more openness to the Western world.

Since he was appointed crown prince in June 2017, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spearheaded several steps to promote gender equality in the kingdom under Vision 2030, which aims to introduce social and cultural reforms and digital transformation to modernize Saudi society and diversify its oil-based economy.

In a major breakthrough for women’s rights, Saudi Arabia in June 2018 lifted a long-standing ban on women driving. 

Earlier that year, in April 2018, women were allowed to attend a concert — the first gender-mixed event in the kingdom.

Later in 2019, Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud signed a law that no longer requires women to get male permission to travel or obtain a passport.

However, despite the apparent reforms, rights groups continue to report discrimination and violation of women’s rights in the kingdom.

Most recently, Amnesty International called on UN member states to review their decision to appoint Saudi Arabia as chair of the UN women’s rights forum during an annual meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

“Saudi Arabia’s abysmal record when it comes to protecting and promoting the rights of women puts a spotlight on the vast gulf between the lived reality for women and girls in Saudi Arabia, and the aspirations of the Commission,” Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for Advocacy Sherine Tadros said in a press release last week.

Saudi Arabia ranked 131 out of 146 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index released by the World Economic Forum in 2023. 

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