Saudi sta­di­ums open for women

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RIYADH, Saudi Ara­bia — Saudi women were al­lowed into a sports sta­dium for the first time Fri­day to watch a soc­cer match be­tween two lo­cal teams — though they were seg­re­gated in the stands from the male-only crowd with des­ig­nated seat­ing in the so-called "fam­ily sec­tion."

The move was the first of Saudi Ara­bia's so­cial re­forms planned for this year to ease re­stric­tions on women, spear­headed by the king­dom's 32-year-old crown prince. The king­dom has also an­nounced that start­ing in June women will be al­lowed to drive, lift­ing the world's only ban on fe­male driv­ers.

More than just an in­cre­men­tal step to­ward greater rights, the pres­ence of women in the sports sta­dium un­der­scored a wider ef­fort to in­te­grate women in so­ci­ety and grant them more pub­lic vis­i­bil­ity in a coun­try where gen­der seg­re­ga­tion is widely en­forced and where most women cover their faces and hair with black veils and don loose-flow­ing black robes, known as abayas.

Saudi Press Agency via AP, File

FILE - In this Sept. 23, 2017 file photo re­leased by Saudi Press Agency, SPA, Saudi men and women at­tend na­tional day cer­e­monies at the King Fahd sta­dium in Riyadh, Saudi Ara­bia. Saudi women will for the first time be al­lowed to en­ter a sports sta­dium on Fri­day, Jan. 12, 2018, to watch a soc­cer match be­tween two lo­cal teams — though they will be seg­re­gated from the male-only crowd with des­ig­nated seat­ing in the so-called "fam­ily sec­tion." The move is Saudi Ara­bia's first so­cial re­form planned for this year grant­ing women greater rights.

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