• January 22, 2016

Being Modern—and Female—in Saudi Arabia

Becky Harlan

Watch: In the video above, photographer Lynsey Addario talks about photographing the assignment “The Changing Face of Saudi Women.”

You may have heard of Lynsey Addario. She’s the author of It’s What I Do, a bestselling memoir about her life as a photojournalist. And she’s no stranger to working in difficult circumstances—having covered revolution, war, migration, and human rights issues for the better part of 20 years.

For 12 years now, Addario has spent time working in Saudi Arabia. The country holds a special place in her heart, but that doesn’t make it an easy society for a visual journalist to navigate. “Every time I go there, I go there with a sort of sense of dread of how difficult it will be to photograph and how impenetrable the place is,” Addario says in the video above. “And then I find myself there and having fun and meeting these incredible women.”

Sisters relax as their children play on the slopes of the desert outside Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.
Sisters relax as their children play on the slopes of the desert outside Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.
Photograph by Lynsey Addario

These women are the focus of the February 2016 National Geographic magazine story “The Changing Face of Saudi Women.” The feature reveals multifaceted female lives in a nation that the story’s author, Cynthia Gorney, calls “the most profoundly gender-segregated nation on Earth.” Addario’s images peer into the active lives of these women, highlighting the search for a way to be “truly modern and truly Saudi.”

“I want people to learn—to have a better sense of what Saudi women’s lives are,” says Addario. “I hope people walk away with a different perspective.”

See more of Lynsey Addario’s photos from the February 2016 National Geographic magaine story “The Changing Face of Saudi Women.”

Hear her talk about “Leaving the Comfort Zone,” on Proof.

There are 10 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Scott Mammoser
    February 10, 2016

    This was one in a string of excellent photographic works from Lynsey Addario.

  2. Hanan
    February 8, 2016

    To truly understand what life is like for women in Saudi Arabia, one must be a woman and visit and spend quality time with Saudi women in their country. I am an American citizen who has lived in Saudi Arabia for more than 25 years. I have seen and experienced amazing changes in the country. I also have come to understand and realize that just because the Saudi lifestyle is very different from that in which I grew up, doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. It seems to me that people who often criticize the lifestyle of Saudis and who feel that Saudi women are oppressed, have a misunderstanding of what that word really means.

    February 5, 2016


  4. Eva Ohrablova
    February 3, 2016

    Thank you for sharing these pictures with us. It very interesting.

  5. Edward Paul Campbell
    February 2, 2016

    Women are the real power behind the oppression of Islam. When they become brave enough to down tools en masse, then and only then, will they stop being de facto enablers of their institutionalised, misogynistic, patriarchal oppression. Like a lifetime caged animal, suddenly realising that the gate of the cage is open but it is still afraid to enter the world of freedom.

  6. Hawaa
    February 2, 2016

    Is sticking to one’s religion teaching is equivalent to (UN – MODERN)?

  7. Monique Greene
    February 1, 2016

    I personally would not be able to live under such contraints but it appears Saudi women have made large progress in the past years so YOU GO GIRLS!!

  8. Sarfraz
    February 1, 2016

    Let the Saudi women live as they wish. By the way, what is the definition of modern? Is it to follow the ways of western society?

  9. Brian Allan
    January 31, 2016

    It is their country… Maybe they’re wiser than we in western society believe!?

  10. Contributor
    January 31, 2016

    One small step for Saudi women……a giant leap for their “menkind”.

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