Since as early as 2014, Saudi Arabia has experienced a rapid period of social activism. Most recently, women were given the right to go to public soccer games. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been hailed as reformer, who has made some rather radical changes to public policy, specifically surrounding civil rights. Since 2015 women have been allowed to vote in the country, and also very recently they began receiving driver’s licenses and hit the road for the first time. Specifically, the right to vote has further influenced change in Saudi Arabia. Of all the changes a few stand out. Saudi women now go to college, but also attend in greater numbers than men. All kinds of new opportunities have been afforded to these women, with six Saudi Arabian women having already competed in the Olympics.
The international community has praised the changes, but detractors have pointed to the other aspects of Saudi society that do not reflect the supposedly progressive country in the middle-east. Saudi Arabian women may have more freedom legally than they did before, but there are still cultural laws that prevent them from exercising these freedoms without male approval. Many of the supposed liberating policies, including the right to vote have also been criticized for not actually being in effect in some place. While the women did vote in their previous municipal elections, most, if not all of them were accompanied by men. This has put into question the legitimacy of the country’s claimed reformation, with the highly controversial full-body coverings constantly being debated in the larger community.
However, many of these analyses forget the individuals. While they may not be afforded the same rights and privileges as women in the west, getting to watch their favorite sport in person and spending time with their families is what many of these women could only dream about, now a reality. Fitting, that soccer, an international pastime could do that for them.