In a bid to transform the world’s most conservative societies, Saudi Arabia will allow women into sports stadiums starting in 2018.
However, the latest landmark step will only be implemented in stadiums in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.
Preparations at the men-only stadiums have already begun so they can be “ready to accommodate families from early 2018.”
Last month, women were allowed into football stadiums in a one-off event to commemorate the country’s national day. However, this will be the very first time women, who face strict gender segregation rules, will be allowed alongside men.
The move comes a month after Saudi King Salman ordered that women be allowed to drive cars, ending a conservative tradition seen by civil rights activists as an emblem of the Islamic kingdom's repression of women.
The government is also planning to open cinemas that have been banned since the 1970s and concerts are also being held in the kingdom.
The latest steps in liberalizing women come as the kingdom is introducing new reforms to shift Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil to a more diverse economy. The Gulf kingdom's crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, vowed to destroy "extremist ideologies" in a bid to "return" to a more "moderate Islam."
“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,” he said at a Future Investment Initiative (FII) summit in Riyadh.
Under his Vision 2030, bin Salman aims to open up Saudis’ cloistered lifestyles, shaped in part by a strict, conservative version of Sunni Islam that limits the role of women, and diversifies the economy away from oil.
However, critics fear the plans are not going to be as easy to implement as they seem.
“Despite the bold statements, it is important to remember that the dominance of conservative thought since the late 1970s cannot be quickly reversed. Ultraconservative and radical elements continue to pose risks,” said analysis firm Eurasia Group.
Although the country is moving toward liberal reforms, women still face numerous restrictions. They have to adhere to strict dress codes. They still have to be accompanied by a male guardian or at least have a written permission while traveling.
It keeps going: Saudi Arabia to allow women fans in sports stadiums. Altho they say it’s to “accommodate families”, what about single women?— Erin Burnett (@ErinBurnett) October 29, 2017
BREAKING: #Saudi Arabia says it will allow women into sports stadiums for the first time from next year, in a landmark move that would open up the previously male-only venues to families— david vujanovic (@davidvujanovic) October 29, 2017
The General Sports Authority says three stadiums are being prepared for families #AFP
Thumbnail Credits: Reuters, Faisal Al Nasser