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Reema’s view: Celebrating International Women’s Day 2022 with her mother Sana

March 8, 2022

On International Women’s Day 2022, Reema Juffali sits down with her mother Sana to discuss breaking the bias and how their story can inspire women in Saudi Arabia.

Through the #BreakTheBias campaign,International Women’s Day2022 is highlighting the importance of diversity and inclusion to celebrate and value differences as it stresses the need for equality.

Reema made history by becoming the first SaudiArabian woman to compete professionally and her trail-blazing journey has led her to compete in single-seaters around the world.
It was a journey that wouldn’t have been possible without the love and support of her family and especially her mother, and the two share their personal experiences and perspectives.

Why do you think it is important to celebrate International Womens Day?

Reema: I think it’s super important for us [females] to support each other, whether it’s behind the scenes in your family unit, with your friends, or in the public sphere. International Women’s Day is about highlighting the achievements of all women, sharing our stories and uniting and inspiring women around the world.

Sana: As women, I feel we need the support of one another, all around the world. We have a unique perspective and we understand each other and our needs. Very often women lack the support they need and deserve, and we have to work so much harder to prove ourselves, so having that support and recognition of our achievements is very important.

The theme of International Womens Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias. What does that mean to you both?

Reema: To me, breaking the bias means not allowing outside opinion to dictate how I feel. For example, going out and influencing how I dress or if I should put some makeup on or not. All these things should depend on my personal choice - how I feel and what I want. That is where the bias can be for me. They are underlying, but they’re things that we take on as women, and maybe take on as a responsibility.


It’s about being authentic and being true to yourself. That’s the way forward. The more barriers and restrictions you put up, the more you’re weighing yourself down. So, in order to take those steps forward, it’s about believing in yourself and taking the steps that feel right to you.


Sana: I think it’s human nature to be biased.  When you look at a company, you see the management, everyone generally looks the same and there’s always a hierarchy.


But imagine that hierarchy on the whole population, between males and females? The bias exists, it’s cultural and it is innate in human beings. I think it’s about time women showcase their capabilities at every level and not caring about the bias and stereotypes that exist.


Where do you believe there to be bias in motorsport, and how do we overcome it?


Sana: In motorsports, it exists, for sure. The bias is there because men make up the majority. So when you’re part of the minority, in this case, women, there are bound to be biases to overcome.


In my experience, men think that they drive better than a woman. If a car is going slow, they’ll comment, ‘this is a woman driving!’. But it’s not true. I think bias is a built-in narrative that is taught when we’re younger that females are the weaker sex physically and emotionally but it’s simply not true.


Reema: To add to that, as a 26-year-old at the time, competing with 16-year-olds, I was definitely a lot fitter than the 16-year-olds. I felt on top of it and didn’t feel behind. But on the other side I was coming in for the first time, learning the sport. I had a lot to learn, butI never felt that my physicality was in the way.


The route I decided to take was probably a little bit unconventional, but it wasn’t a matter of me not being strong enough, it was about putting the effort in, and, with time and the right guidance, I’d get to where I wanted to go.


I can see the lack of opportunities. I came into motorsport considerably late, and I was still one of only two women in my championship at the time. That’s not something I’m OK with. I want to see more women out there, I want to help women climb this ladder in all disciplines of motorsport.


Reema, what is the most important piece of advice you have been given by your mother?


Reema: She has always said to me, ‘make sure you’re happy and confident with what you’re doing. When something doesn’t feel right, take a step back to rethink and reassess’.

Any time I was ever feeling overwhelmed or trying too hard, she was always the voice of reason asking me ‘Hey what’s happening? What’s going on?’ She has a unique ability to understand the situation I’m in and make sure I’m enjoying it and not feeling overwhelmed.


Sana, as a mother of a female racing driver, what advice would you give to other mothers in a similar position?


Sana: It is a male-dominated industry, which has been the case for years. As a mother, I’m always asked, ‘aren’t you worried? Aren’t you scared?’ They[other mothers] are all worried. They want to protect their children, and they want to shelter them.

I say it’s just driving a car. It’s just like being a doctor. You train to do that. And if you train well, why should you worry?

I know my daughter. Since she was young, she has been responsible and focused, before she began training to be an athlete. Now as an athlete, I see her physical training, mental training and even emotional training. The more I see her in this sport, the more I feel confident that she is taking care of herself.

My advice would be: trust your child to properly prepare for the challenges ahead.


How momentous was it for you both when Reema was entered into her first competition as a Saudi Arabian woman?


Reema: To be honest, that first competition was quite overwhelming. It was something I was anticipating, I just needed to get to the finish line. So, a lot of my attention was on the racing, and I didn’t pay much attention to the fact until after the race.


It was after the race that someone came up tome and asked me, ‘How does it feel, and what does it mean to you?’ That was the ‘aha’ moment. At that point, I still didn’t understand the magnitude of it.


It wasn’t until I felt like I had enough skill, and enough hours under my belt to say OK, I’m ready to take on the responsibility of spearheading Saudi motorsports.


For me, the occasion was not about Saudi or being a Saudi racing driver. It was about finally going after my dream and finally doing what I sought out to do after so long. It was a very personal goal.


Sana: We had no idea of the attention that Reema would attract globally, and that was not our incentive.Our goal was only for Reema to pursue her dream, we were all there for that reason only. We were happy that she finished the race, she had a good result, and she was safe. It was a great achievement, and it was something that we all wished for her.

Reema: The media attention was overwhelming. Imposter syndrome, was alive and well.


Sana: The social media response afterwards was 99% positive. It was phenomenal - the sheer number of people interested was huge and that’s was when I was worried, and we got into an argument because I was like ‘no you’re going to have stalkers! You’re famous now, this is dangerous!’


Reema: We did! That was probably a time where I needed to be away from my mum because she was still processing this, taking this all in and people were calling her and sending her messages. And she was happy, but I didn’t want to take that on. It was too much for me in that moment.


Sana: We were worried. I thought, ‘this is too much exposure, I want to protect my daughter, I don’t want her to be a public figure’. That level of responsibility made me nervous for her.


Sana how did you deal with the social media fame and all the barriers? How did you keep your support for Reema going without being too worried?


Sana: Well, I read everything. I read everything that was on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter,Google, YouTube - everywhere that had Reema’s name.


But then I saw that everything was so positive.


She is mature enough and she can handle herself.After her first race, a company asked her to put on a branded cap and she politely but firmly told them no. That was when I knew she wouldn’t be swayed or manipulated commercially. My girl is smart, she knows what she’s doing.’


What do you both hope Reemas success will mean for future women in Saudi Arabia?


Reema: I hope that my journey resonates with someone. Whether it’s how I ended up in this field, or what it took to get here. It’s not about racing and getting in a car and competing. That is 100% why Im doing it, but it might not be the story for everyone else, and it might not be what reaches females in Saudi.


For me, growing up in Saudi at the time, I had very few public figures that I could look up to and see. I had family members,I had relatives, but I didn’t have anyone in the public sphere that I could look to.


I want to inspire people to leave their comfort zone, be you and try something different to find your passion. I know a lot of people who have grown up in Saudi, in the Middle East, who have maybe been a bit stuck in their ways. We need to grow and we need to broaden our horizons.


Sana: I’m happy enough with Reema reaching her goal. That is enough for me. In the bigger picture, there is hope for all the women, hope for all females in the world.


Reema, how do you think your career would have progressed without the support of your mother?


Reema: My mum has been my absolute rock. Who I am today is thanks to her, and thanks to the support she has given me, and what she’s taught me. She is someone I look up to, and someone I aspire to be. She says to me ‘lookI want you to be better than me’. So now I’m taking what I can and learning from her.


To have someone you can lean on and ask for advice is so important. I was a 26-year-old deciding to leave my career to go and do what I love. For someone who means a lot to you to get behind you and tell you to go for it is incredible.


Before I even decided to take that step [into racing], she was saying ‘When are you going to get your racing license?’ She knew how much it meant to me.


She probably saw further ahead than I did. Now we’re here, and I’m racing. We’re talking about my success, and it’s still hard for me to talk about because it is something that is still quite new.


I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without a woman like her.

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