Saudi Arabian women finally receive a chance for equality – or at the very least, partial equality. They are now allowed to sit in the family section at sporting events alone or with a male relative, the Washington Post reports. This newfound freedom will take effect in 2018.
A woman’s ability to attend sporting events in Saudi Arabia gained attention in December 2014 after a Saudi Arabian woman attended a soccer game, wearing men’s clothing and stating that she did not know the al-Jawhara stadium was only for men, according to Fox News. She was spotted by security staff and taken into custody by the police.
In spite of this, the country has made exceptions for foreign women at sporting events. For instance, an Australian woman from West Sydney Wanderers Soccer Club, a group of American women, and members of Congress attended a match at the King Fahd stadium, the Independent reports.
That same stadium allowed women to attend its 87th anniversary celebration in September; Saudi Arabian women rejoiced over this opportunity, Reuters reports.
Um Abdulrahm al-Shihiri, a woman from Tabuk, explained how women have caught up to men in the workforce and should be allowed to enjoy many of the same privileges as men.
“Women are at all levels now – women are now (representatives) in the Shura council, women are now doctors, women are now in big positions. So why shouldn’t we join the men in things that matter to our nation?” she told Reuters.
These freedoms have largely resulted from Prince Mohammed’s “Vision 2030” plan, which seeks to bring social and economic changes to Saudi Arabia, BBC says. Mohammed also seeks to end extremism through this initiative.
“We want to lead normal lives, lives where our religion and our traditions translate into tolerance, so that we coexist with the world and become part of the development of the world,” Mohammed said at the Future Investment Initiative Conference, according to CNN.
Saudi Arabian women, such as runner Sarah Attar, also competed in the 2012 Olympic Games in London and 2016 Games in Rio. However, women still could not compete in their home country’s sporting events.
Along with King Fahd, the General Sports Authority said the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah and Prince Mohamed bin Fahd Stadium in Dammam will accommodate families with renovations, CBS News reports.
Saudi Arabia follows one of the strictest interpretations of Sharia law, the legal code that guides most aspects of Muslim life, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. As a result, Saudi Arabian women have little freedom and several women have protested laws, such as the previous restrictions on driving.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index ranks 144 countries on a scale of 0 (inequality) to 1 (equality), Saudi Arabia ranked 141st with a score of 0.583, standing only higher than Syria, Pakistan, and Yemen. In comparison, the United States has a score of 0.722 and Iceland has the highest score of 0.874.
Although women have recently received more rights, such as competing in the Olympics and driving cars, they still lack other rights, CNN reports. Women must follow strict guardianship laws and cannot communicate freely with men, walk around public areas without a full-length black abaya, retain custody of their children after a divorce, conduct certain business without a male sponsor, receive an equal inheritance, or get a fair hearing in court.
Saudi Arabia still has a long way to go down the road to gender equality, even though women recently received greater liberties in a culture that emphasizes gender segregation. Under Prince Mohammed, the country may see even more reforms in women’s rights over the next few years.
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