Women were allowed to watch a soccer match for the first time in Saudi Arabia on Friday, as the country lifted its decades-old rule separating the sexes.
The new reform measure comes months after Riyadh, long known for imposing harsh restrictions on women, announced it was lifting a ban prohibiting them from driving, as well as reopening cinemas.
Women supporters gathered at the Pearl stadium in Jeddah wearing the traditional black abaya robe to watch the match between Saudi Premier League clubs Al-Ahli and Al-Batin.
The Islamic kingdom has announced a series of reforms initiated by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman since last year.
Glass panels were set up to separate men supporters from the women and family section of the stadium.
“My daughters still don’t believe this is happening. They have not yet realised they will be cheering their favourite team inside the stadium,” said Saleh al-Ziadi, who brought his three daughters to the game.
Lamya Khaled Nasser, a 32-year-old football fan from Jeddah, said she was proud and looking forward to the match.
“This event proves that we are heading for a prosperous future. I am very proud to be a witness of this massive change,” she told AFP.
“I am proud and extremely happy for this development and for the kingdom’s moves to catch up with civilised measures adopted by many countries,” said Ruwayda Ali Qassem.
Saudi Arabia, which has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women, has long barred them from sports arenas through strict rules that keep the sexes apart in public.
But in September, hundreds of women were allowed to enter a sports stadium in the capital Riyadh, used mostly for football matches, for the first time to attend celebrations marking the country’s national day.
The easing of social controls comes as Prince Mohammed looks to repackage the oil-rich nation as more moderate and welcoming.
The powerful crown prince’s “Vision 2030″ programme for a post-oil era stems partly from an economic motive to boost domestic spending on entertainment as the kingdom reels from an energy slump.
(With inputs from agencies)