Saudi to allow women into stadium for national day

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Saudi Arabia has invited women to a sports stadium for the first time to attend annual national day celebrations with their families, state media said Wednesday, opening up a previously male-only venue.

Families will be allowed into the King Fahd stadium in Riyadh, used mostly for football matches, and seated separately from single men to mark the kingdom’s 87th National Day this weekend.

“The stadium is ready to receive about 40,000 people divided between individuals and families to be seated separately,” the official Saudi Press Agency said in a statement, citing the general authority of entertainment.

This marks a shift from previous celebrations in the kingdom where women are effectively barred from sports arenas by strict rules on segregation of the sexes in public.

Saudi Arabia has some of the world’s tightest restrictions on women and is the only country where they are not allowed to drive.

Under the country’s guardianship system, a male family member — normally the father, husband or brother — must grant permission for a woman’s study, travel and other activities.

But the kingdom appears to be relaxing some norms as part of its “Vision 2030” plan for economic and social reforms.

In July, rights campaigners welcomed an “overdue” reform by the education ministry to allow girls to take part in sports at state schools.

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