(JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia) — In a historic move permitted by Saudi rulers, a stadium in Saudi Arabia’s second city, Jeddah, allowed women to attend a soccer match between two local teams.
Dressed in headscarves and long flowing abbayas the women filed into the stadium, ushered by women in orange T-shirts over their conservative dress, to take up seats at the “family section” of the stands, separate from the male spectators. The structure of the stadium accommodated the segregation with women-only car parks and separate entrances for the female spectators.
These sections are found throughout the country in public places, such as restaurants. Men and women can only sit together as married couples or if they are directly related.
Despite the landmark development for women’s freedom, less than half of the “family section” was filled.
Saudi Arabia will see more mixed stadiums opening over the next few days with the capital Riyadh opening its stadium on Saturday and the city of Damam next week.
“It’s very nice and it’s about time.” Karima Buchari, a college lecturer and mother of two teenage daughters in Riyadh, told ABC News. She watched the women at the stadium on the news.
“It’s a huge change because they just used to keep those places for men,” she said.
The new measure for women is part of 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s reforms in the Kingdom to reduce restrictions for women and to modernize the country. Last year he announced that women will be allowed to drive beginning in June 2018 and in 2015 women were allowed to vote and represent themselves for the first time in municipal elections.
“Soon they’ll have women playing football.” Buchari said. She regards Prince Salman as a champion for women.
“Yes, he is a hero and this era is the Saudi women’s time for sure,” she said.
These small steps towards women’s freedom in Saudi Arabia do not address the permissions they still need from men to go about their daily lives; these include: getting married, opening a bank account, elective surgery, traveling abroad.
Buchari remains hopeful that there will be more concessions for her freedom to come.
“I hope we use it [the freedoms] wisely and we make the country proud of our accomplishments,” she said.
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