The perennial clash between Saudi Arabian soccer rivals Al-Hilal and Al-Ittihad normally ranks low on the international sporting calendar. But Friday’s fixture at Riyadh’s King Fahd International Stadium is momentous: for the first time in the country’s history, women will join men cheering for their favorite team inside the stadium.
Previously, Saudi Arabia’s female fans were only permitted to watch sports fixtures on television, according to the Guardian, with arrests of women who tried to sneak into stadiums reported as recently as 2014.
But government reforms announced in October, are now taking effect for at least three stadiums. Arenas in the capital Riyadh, the western city of Jeddah, and the eastern city of Dammam will each now have special sections reserved for families, including female fans.
Lina Al-Maeena, a member of Saudi Arabia’s formal advisory body the Shura Council, and director of the country’s first women-only basketball team, told Arab News “It’s a historic game, the first in which Saudi families can enter a stadium together. They are finally going to have activities and entertainment together where they’re not separated, where parents go with their kids and mothers and even grandmothers, where they can enjoy sports events specifically, together.”
Saudi Arabia ranks 141th out of 144 countries for gender parity on the World Economic Forum’s 2016 index. In September, after years of civil disobedience, the Kingdom announced it would finally allow women to drive.