King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia welcomed women through its gates for the first time in its history to celebrate the Gulf kingdom’s 87th anniversary.
The country’s strict implementation of Sharia law from the Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam bans gender mixing in locations such as stadiums and cinemas. The celebrations are part of the government’s Vision 2030 initiative launched two years ago, in which it is trying to expand its economy and move away from oil by creating new employment sectors for young Saudis.
In addition to allowing women into the stadium in Riyadh on Saturday night, another concert in the Red Sea city of Jeddah featured 11 Arab musicians, plus fireworks, air acrobatics and traditional folk dance shows.
“We hope in the future that there will be no restrictions on our entrance to the stadium,” Um Abdulrahman, a woman from the city of Tabuk, told AFP.
“For many years ago I have hoped that women will be given the same rights as men.”
The government agency organising the national day festivities expects some 1.5 million Saudis to attend events in 17 cities over four days.
“On this great occasion, we feel that the kingdom has become an important state with a pioneering role at the regional and international levels,” Prince Mohammed said in a speech earlier cited by the official Saudi Press Agency.
Under Saudi laws, women are not allowed to drive, despite some government reform attempts aimed at boosting female employment. In addition, women are unable to travel, study or visit a doctor without a male guardian’s permission.
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