Saudi women to be allowed into sports stadiums for first time
RIYADH (Web Desk)– Saudi women will be allowed into some of the country’s sports stadiums for the first time next year, in the latest in a string of reforms to Saudi Arabia’s ultra-conservative social laws.
Women have previously been banned from all stadiums but the Saudi government said Sunday that it would begin opening up venues in Riyadh, Jeddah and the eastern city of Dammam in early 2018.
“In line with the directives of our wise leadership and its interest in all sectors of society, it has been decided to start preparing three stadiums…to be ready for families in accordance with the relevant regulations in early 2018,” the General Sports Authority said.
Women were allowed into the national stadium in Riyadh last month for a one-off event to mark Saudi Arabia’s national day.
Sunday’s announcement implies they will be able to attend sporting events regularly but will still need to be accompanied by their husband or a male family members, in line with the country’s strict guardianship system.
It is not clear if the stadiums will be segregated by gender or if women will have to sit in a specific section for families.
Saudi Arabia announced last month that women will finally be allowed to drive from June 2018. The country’s ban on female drivers had long been held up as a symbol of its oppressive treatment of women.
The World Economic Forum’s 2016 Global Gender Gap report ranks Saudi Arabia as the fourth worst country in the world in terms of gender equality. Only Syria, Pakistan and Yemen scored lower in the rankings.
The announcement was the highest profile in a flurry of reforms that the Saudi government has made in the hopes of energising the economy and improving Saudi Arabia’s international image.
The reforms are being driven through by the Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s ambitious 32-year-old crown prince. He is the author of Vision 2030, a blueprint for modernising the country and weaning it off its dependence on oil.
The prince is widely seen as the effective ruler of Saudi Arabia given that his father King Salman is 81 and in poor health.
Earlier this month, Prince Mohammed convened a high-profile investment conference in Riyadh, where he unveiled plans for a £380 billion new economic zone.