Saudi Arabian women were permitted to enter a football stadium to watch a football match between two local teams for the first time on Friday. The women sat in a designated family section, segregated from the male football fans. Previously, if a woman tried to enter a sports stadium, she would be arrested.
The move was supported by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as part of Saudi Arabia’s changes to ease the social restrictions on women. The first sports stadium to permit women to enter was in Jiddah, while Saudi Arabia’s capital Riyadh welcomed women on Saturday and the city of Dammam will allow women entry on Thursday. The Jiddah stadium organized female workers to direct the female fans to the family section, which donned a sign that said, “welcome to Saudi families.” The stadium erected female only prayer areas and restrooms alongside female only entrances and car parking. Local media have speculated that women may have their own smoking area. The stadium in Riyadh permitted families to enter and watch National Day celebrations in September; the first-time women had entered the stadium. However, this was a one-off and the new law will allow women to enter freely at any time.
Family sections are common throughout Saudi Arabia so that married couples, friends and relatives may sit together while dining at a restaurant. However, these tables are always separated from the men-only tables. While gender segregation is overtly apparent at football games and restaurants, it is a great step forward for Saudi Arabia to allow women to be seen in society enjoying themselves, and not simply obliging to their roles as mothers and wives. Women can attend football games without the need for a male guardian, thus increasing their independence and self-confidence. Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia still enforces outdated guardianship laws that prevent women from travelling overseas, marrying or obtaining a passport without the consent of a male relative. These laws restrict women’s freedom and enforce the belief that men are superior to women by disallowing women the same rights as men.
If Saudi Arabia truly wants to be a progressive country it must change the societal belief that women must not stray from their duty as a mother and wife, and must obey their male relatives. The Kingdom has announced that women will be allowed to drive in the country from June 2018, a move which lifts the world’s only ban on female drivers. Although it appears that Saudi Arabian women are quickly attaining freedoms they had only dreamed of, we must remember that these freedoms are so basic we cannot wholeheartedly celebrate until the country embraces equality and allows women all the same rights as men.
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