Thousands of Saudi women are now enjoying the right to attend football matches among other basic improvements in women’s rights under the Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s modernization program.
In January, women were finally allowed to attend a match alongside men at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium in Jeddah, although they had to enter through a separate turnstile.
“It means that I am human,” secondary school teacher Nora told Sky News at a Riyadh derby game. “No other can prevent me from doing what I want. No other [can] decide what I want. I am the one who decides.”
“This event proves that we are heading for a prosperous future,” 32-year-old Lamya Khaled Nasser told Agence France Press. “I am very proud to be a witness to this massive change.”
The decision allowing women to attend football matches followed the announcement last year that the ban on women drivers will also be lifted.
“I will be ecstatic, I will be happy. I will be sad for all the years that passed in my life that I wasn’t able to do such basic elementary step of mobility,” said Madeha al Ajroush, a women’s rights activist who has previously been jailed for driving a car in protest.
“At 18, women usually automatically get behind the wheel and drive and do their errands,” she continued. “I had to wait until I was 63. That saddens me [that] they took away a lot from my life.”
The loosening of restrictions falls in line with the Crown Prince’s modernization movement known as the “Vision 2030” economic program, which Saudi leadership officially approved last April. As well as promoting economic growth, the program also intends to liberalize many of the country’s Islamic conditions.
Last year alone, authorities legalized yoga, held their first women’s basketball tournament, and made roles available for women to work in the Ministry of Justice. The Kingdom has also recently lifted a 35-year ban on commercial cinemas, with the company Vue Cinemas this week announcing plans to open 30 cinemas over the next three years.
However, the country’s human rights record still remains well below that of many of its allies, with citizens regularly arrested and detained for crimes such as religious blasphemy, criticising the government, or dressing inappropriately.
Mohammed Bin Salman’s newfound authority has also been characterized by the sweeping arrests of dozens of Saudi businessmen, officials, and even royalty on corruption charges, although many of them have since been released.