Women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to attend sporting events for the first time starting next year, in another decisive step on the path to gender equality in the kingdom.
Stadiums in three major cities — Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dammam — are being prepared to welcome families from 2018, according to the Saudi sports authority.
The stadiums, which were previously men-only, will undergo a transformation that will include adding restaurants, cafes, and monitor screens.
It follows last month’s historic lifting of a ban on women driving in the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia adheres to strict Islamic law, meaning that women have historically faced strict gender segregation rules.
But Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is making strides in his drive to modernise the Saudi society and economy.
The 32-year-old prince — who has become a voice of the liberal push for greater reform — vowed last week to “eradicate the remnants of extremism very soon”, and bring the return of “moderate Islam.”
Of the Saudi population, 70% is under 30 and, according to the prince, they want a “life in which our religion translates to tolerance.”
The prince’s plan, known as Vision 2030, aims to transform Saudi Arabia, to make it a place where women and men are on equal footing.
Over the past year, there have been a number of policies that have lifted tight restrictions on how women can live and act in Saudi society.
In July, for example, the Saudi Ministry of Education announced that women would be allowed to play sports in school, after more than 10 years of advocacy. And in May, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Said ruled that Saudi women could study and work without obtaining permission from men.
The prince hopes that his plan will not only enhance Saudi society and culture, but will also reduce the kingdom’s economic dependence on oil revenue.
As part of this he wants to increase women’s participation in the workforce from 22% to 30% by 2030.
But there are still serious restrictions on women in the country. Women still have to abide by strict dress codes, and are not allowed to associate with men who they aren’t related to.
Under the kingdom’s “male guardianship law”, women have to have permission from a male relative — usually the father, husband, brother, or even son — to travel, work, or access healthcare.
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