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Starting in 2018, Saudi Arabia will begin to allow women to attend sporting events in the country’s three most prominent sporting venues. This move is a part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “vision for 2030,” which is a plan that aims to integrate women into the workforce and diversify the Saudi Arabian economy, which currently makes about 87% of its revenue from oil. The significant drop in oil prices over the recent years has greatly affected the economy, and has forced the country to look towards other sources of revenue.
The Middle East’s largest country is notorious for their ultra conservative theocratic government. However, there is a misconception that the restrictions that women face in Saudi Arabia’s society is due to the Islamic faith. On the contrary, most of the limitations faced are actually due to the Saudi government’s enforcement of Wahhabism, a very strict form of Sunni Islam. Recent struggles in the oil industry have now forced the country to modernize, and if the country ever wants to be considered an economic powerhouse and avoid bankruptcy, it must begin to integrate women into its economy.
A little over a month ago, another major milestone was reached as women were granted the right to drive. Additionally, it is also expected that women would not have to gain permission from a male “guardian” in order to obtain a driver’s license, and women will also be able to drive by themselves. While the recent changes will certainly lead to backlash, it seems that the government is keen on implementing these new policies. Giving women the right to drive will certainly provide a serviceable boost to the Saudi Arabian economy, as more and more women will enter the workforce. Currently, women have a 22 percent participation rate in the workforce, with the Saudi government aiming to increase that to 30 percent by the year 2030.
No matter what the motives, it is a positive change to see the Saudi government actively working to expand the rights of women in the country. It remains to be seen just how far the government is willing to go, and possibly even more importantly, it is still unknown how much change will the traditionally conservative society be able tolerate. Despite recent efforts, women’s rights still have a very long way to go. According to Saudi law, women still cannot make “major” decisions without men, nor can they wear clothes or use products that “reveal their beauty,” and despite being recently granted permission to attend sporting events in select stadiums, women still cannot officially compete in sports.
A country with aspirations of becoming a world power cannot maintain such discriminatory restrictions against such a large percent of the population. While there is much uncertainty over the development of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, it is certain that the country’s hopes for achieving prosperity will depend on its ability to tolerate change.