Saudi Arabia has decided to create separate sections for women inside stadiums so that they can attend soccer matches, according to a report in the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News on Monday. The head of the Saudi Football Federation, Ahmed Eid Alharbi, recently announced the change.
Economic considerations may be part of the reasoning behind the decision, as it is estimated that the new sections in the stadiums will increase capacity by 15 percent.
Women in Saudi Arabia are under many restrictions, such as being barred from driving, but last month women were given the right to ride bikes and motorcycles on the condition that they are dressed properly and are accompanied by a male relative. In the 2012 Olympics, the country allowed women to participate for the first time.
In an apparent expression of resistance to reforms in the status of women, the Saudi Grand Mufti said allowing women to drive would lead to more accidents and is not in their best interests, according to a post by Ahmed Al Omran on his Riyadh Bureau blog quoting local news website An7a.
“Women driving would lead to more accidents. When women are in danger, they don’t know how to act. How are they going to deal with accidents?” said Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Alsheikh.
The Jerusalem Post interviewed an American expat who lives in Saudi Arabia, named Isabella Marin (not her real name).
She lived for six years in Dubai, working in the real estate industry.
Marin says that life for foreign women in the kingdom is easier than for local women, as many live in separate compounds that have their own rules and where the religious police are not allowed to enter.
While women in Saudi Arabia are required to wear the abaya – a black cloak which covers the entire body except for the hands, feet and face – the garment is not permitted in these compounds. The abaya can be worn with the niqab – a face veil that leaves only the eyes uncovered – and have the option of also wearing gloves to cover the hands.
Marin told the Post that in fancy malls or upscale areas, foreign women will wear the cloak without covering their heads. She says she has even seen foreign women walking around in Riyadh without any head covering, and that the religious police only enforce the head-covering rule with Saudis.
Marin noted that she prefers to cover her hair in public because she has a darker complexion and is worried that people will mistake her for a local.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Princess Ameerah al-Taweel, said during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Jordan that advancing women’s rights in Saudi Arabia is being held back because of conservative men.
“The most daunting challenge is not only the legislation but it is the concept, the mentality [of Saudis], because we know our society is very conservative and is very private and it’s very difficult to change concepts in Saudi Arabia to support women in the workplace or to have a larger contribution [in society],” the princess said, according to a report on the ArabianBusiness.com website on Sunday.
She added that many conservative men do not want women to work because they want to maintain the dignity of these women, but she rejected this reasoning.
“I think the main reason is fear from women and not for women, because they are afraid of women. We know that women are stronger than men in our society because they’re a minority and the minority usually wants to prove itself,” said Taweel, noting that 85% of Saudi Arabia’s unemployed are women.