Saudi women allowed to attend football matches for first time

Saudi women will be allowed to attend football matches for first time today as the kingdom introduced one of its promised reforms to ease social norms.

To prepare for the change at sports stadiums, the kingdom has designated "family sections" in the stands for women, separated by barriers from the male-only crowd. The stadiums have also been fitted with female prayer areas, restrooms and smoking areas, as well as separate entrances and parking lots for female spectators.

The first stadium to open its doors to women is in the Red Sea city of Jiddah for a match between Saudi football teams Al-Ahli and Al-Batin. The national stadium in the capital, Riyadh, will open to women on Saturday, followed by the western city of Dammam next Thursday.

Until now, in the country ranked by the World Economic Forum in 2016 as 141th out of 144 on gender parity, women have been forced to watch football on television.

Local media reported on many occasions the arrest of women for attending football matches. However, there have been exceptions for foreign women.

The Saudi government announced last October that the long-standing ban was coming to an end, in at least in three stadiums to start with. Arenas in Riyadh, Jeddah and the eastern city of Dammam will have special sections for female fans.

Although the move is seen as a part of wider effort to integrate women in society and grant them more public visibility, Saudi women still face women still face severe restrictions in the country, which enforces a strict form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism.

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