By Bryan Yeoh Quan Jin, International News Writer
Saudi Arabia will allow women to enter sports stadiums in 2018, according to an announcement made on October 29. This historic move follows in the lifting of the driving ban on women this past September.
Permitting women to enter sports stadiums is another step towards more freedom for Saudi women. There are three major cities which will participate in this move. Women will be allowed to enter stadiums in the cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam with their families. There is, however, no official statement whether women can go to the stadiums by themselves and not with their families. Under Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system, a woman must seek permission from a male family member before making decisions on education, travel or other life activities. This particularly strict law has placed an extensive web of restrictions on Saudi women.
These easing of restrictions are part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan to modernize Saudi Arabia. Under his blueprint outlined in Vision 2030, the Crown Prince plans to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy. As a result, women are being encouraged to participate in achieving the goals of Vision 2030. This in line with Prince Mohammed’s statement to BBC News that a return to moderate Islam was key to his plans to modernize the country. He said in a statement to BBC News that 70% of the Saudi population was under 30 and that they wanted a life in which their religion translates to tolerance. Saudi Arabia practices Wahhabism which has been described as ultraconservative or fundamentalist.
However, Prince Mohammed’s plans have not been without backlash from conservatives in the country. The Guardian reported a Saudi Twitter use who said, “First women driving, now stadiums. What’s next? Night clubs?”. Just last month, conservatives protested against the presence of women in a sports stadium in conjunction with Saudi Arabia’s national day celebration. Analysts speaking to various media agencies concur that conservative thought in Saudi Arabia is so entrenched that it cannot be quickly reversed.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 7th print edition.
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