A Saudi woman was arrested for watching a soccer game Monday, but she didn’t know women were prohibited from going to the male-only stadiums. The country enforces a strict segregation at the games without any designated areas for women to attend, according to the Times of India. However, authorities have announced plans for areas where “families” can watch a soccer match.
There have been some exceptions for foreign women. For example, an Australian female supporter of Western Sydney Wanderers Football Club was permitted to attend a match at Riyadh’s main stadium in October. And in January, a group of American women traveling with members of U.S. Congress watched a local soccer club match, also in Riyadh. But this case was a bit different.
The Saudi woman arrested during the soccer game bought a ticket online without any problems. The game was between Jiddah’s al-Ittihad and Riyadh’s al-Shabab. But she disguised herself with men clothing to avoid detection, according to police spokesman Atti al-Qurashi.
Police questioned the woman, who is in her twenties, for “impersonating” a man by wearing pants, a long-sleeve top, a hat and sunglasses. Most women in Saudi Arabia cover their hair and face with a veil known as the niqab and all women are required to wear a loose black dress known as the abaya in public. The suspect has been in police custody since Friday and is being held at a center for girls in the western province of Mecca.
The woman was able to pass through the stadium’s security check and make it to the Jawhara stadium bleachers, according to Saudi Gazette. There, she sat for some time watching the soccer match before one of the security officers spotted her and apprehended her. The woman said she wanted to watch the match between Al-Etihad and Al-Shabab clubs in Saudi Arabia.
Women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are limited in comparison to many of its neighbors. The World Economic Forum 2013 Global Gender Gap Report ranked Saudi Arabia 127th out of 136 countries for gender parity. All women, regardless of age, are required to have a male guardian. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving.
Saudi women constitute 18.6% of the country’s native workforce as of 2011. However, women’s status has changed in recent decades. They were previously forbidden from voting or being elected to political office, but in 2011 King Abdullah declared that women would be able to vote and run in the 2015 local elections, as well as be appointed to the Consultative Assembly.
While a Saudi woman was arrested at a soccer game for men, more university graduates are actually female, with literacy estimated to be 91% (though lower than male literacy) far higher than just 40 years ago. The average age at first marriage among Saudi females in the kingdom is 25 years. Many Saudi women do not support loosening traditional gender roles and restrictions, on the grounds that Saudi Arabia is the closest thing to an “ideal and pure Islamic nation,” and under threat from “imported Western values”.
Among the factors that define rights for women in Saudi are government laws, the Hanbali and Wahhabi interpretation of Sunni Islam, and traditional customs of the Arabian peninsula.
As previously reported by NewsOXY last summer, one woman was sentenced to 50 lashes for insulting the police. While a judge upheld the sentence, theress been growing criticism about the recent behavior by the morality police. Most of the complaints involving lashes have been addressed on social media from inside the Kingdom in recent years.
The Saudi woman arrested at the soccer game faces no charges yet, since none have been filed so far, notes Yahoo News. Ultraconservative Saudi clerics shun female access to exercise and women’s teams are not part of the kingdom’s federation that oversees sports. Women often struggle to find facilities to train and are not allowed to attend matches in stadiums.