On Saudi National Day: Women Celebrate New Freedom

Hundreds of women celebrating Saudi Arabia’s National Day inside King Fahd Stadium for the first time ©️ BBC

Every year, the kingdom celebrates its national day on September 23rd. However, this year, the event has created a media interest as it marks a first in the country’s history.

For the first time, Saudi women were allowed to enter a sports stadium, a previously male-only venue used mostly for football matches. Several photos have been taken to commemorate this important moment.

As the photo above shows, many women from different ages could attend the ceremony. Surprisingly, not all of them wear the burqa, a veil that covers the hair and the face. While some women stick to the traditional outfit, others, especially the youngest, opt for a more modern one. The photo, indeed, signals the ongoing transition from conforming to the imposed dress code towards the freedom of choice. The very presence of young girls without the burqa in the stadium gives a more optimistic vision to the women’s future in the country.

To what extent can this event be considered a step towards Saudi women liberation?

It is true that women entrance to a so long male-only destination signals a departure from gender exclusivity, but it also raises many question about women’s position in the Saudi society.

The photo captures some answers to these questions. It depicts a group of women and their kids seating separately from men. The conservative Islamic kingdom is still practicing its gender segregation. Not all of the participants in the photo seem to be happy and enthusiastic. Boredom, irritation, dissatisfaction and indifference can be read on many faces, which actually puts in question their implication in this initiative.

in addition to that, the black colour dominates the picture. In 2021, Saudi women cannot dress in colours and they have to put either the veil or the burqa. Is this event a camouflage to distract us from asking for radical changes in this patriarchal society? The answer remains unknown, but what is certain is that while the government thinks that it is on the path to empower women, women, themselves, are still unsatisfied about their rights.

Narimane Dhaoui

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