Saudi Arabia to Allow Women to Attend Stadiums

Gender Equality SA

Women's rights in Saudi Arabia are limited in comparison to the rights of women in many of its neighbors. Under Saudi law, all females must have a male guardian (wali), typically a father, brother, husband or uncle (mahram). Girls and women are forbidden from traveling, conducting official business, or undergoing certain medical procedures without permission from their male guardians. Women need their guardian's permission for marriage and divorce, travel, education, employment, opening a bank account, etc.

Now, the country with the big issue with discrimination against women, is finally allowing women to attending sporting events in stadiums. Maybe it is a small step at the global level, but it is a big step for Saudi Arabia. King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia issued an order about a month ago allowing women in the country to drive, ending a longstanding policy that epitomized gender discrimination in the Middle East for years. Another big change is made now -- starting next year, women will be allowed to attend sporting events in stadiums for the first time.

The Washington Post reports:

“Saudi Arabia’s General Sports Authority made the announcement Sunday, tweeting that preparations will begin to ‘accommodate families’ in three stadiums in the major cities of Riyadh, Jiddah and Dammam. Two of the stadiums, the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh and the King Abdullah Sports City in Jiddah, hold the highest seating capacity in the kingdom.”

“Sports stadiums in Saudi Arabia to open their doors to welcome women in 2018,” Princess Reema Bandar bint Al-Saud, the vice president for women’s affairs of the General Sports Authority, wrote on Twitter.

Those moves toward gender equality are part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman‘s “vision for 2030″ plan. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the heir apparent to the Saudi throne, said that the government aims to boost female participation in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent by 2030.

According to the Washington Post, the crown prince said he hopes to turn his country toward a more moderate version of Islam. He described plans to build a futuristic city run solely on alternative energy. A promotional video for his proposed development shows women running in sports bras and working alongside men in co-ed offices without the hijab covering their heads.

Saudi conservatives on social media condemn all government’s attempts to increase the rights of women. One user tweeted “Patriotism does not mean sin,” and a hashtag began circulating that translated to “people demand the return of the Haia,” or the religious police, which last year lost its power to arrest citizens. After allowing women to attend sporting events, another hashtag became popular meaning “Would you agree to marry a girl who enters stadiums?”

Saudi Arabia, known for restricting women’s rights in the name of religion, must make lots of changes to provide women with basic human rights. Certainly, changing deeply rooted social norms will not be an easy task and Saudi Arabia should expect a long and complex process. But don’t forget, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Photo Credits: Wikimedia, Dean Lawrence

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