Saudi Arabia announced Wednesday it will allow women in the ultra-conservative kingdom to serve in the armed forces as it embarks on a broad program of economic and social reforms.
The move is the latest in a series of measures aimed at increasing the rights of women in the kingdom, even as rights groups accuse Riyadh of cracking down on women activists.
“Another step to empowerment,” the foreign ministry wrote on Twitter, adding that women would be able to serve as private first class, corporal or sergeant.
— Foreign Ministry 🇸🇦 (@KSAmofaEN) October 9, 2019
Last year, Saudi Arabia authorized women to join its security forces.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom s de facto ruler, has approved a handful of reforms aimed at widening women s rights, including allowing them to drive and to travel abroad without consent from a male “guardian”.
But he has at the same time overseen the arrest of several prominent women s rights campaigners, including activist Loujain al-Hathloul.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude exporter, is pushing to improve its image and attract tourists as part of a plan to diversify its economy away from oil.
Earlier, Saudi Arabia has issued its first driving licenses for women three weeks before it ends the world only ban on female drivers, though are still in jail.
Ten women who held foreign driving licenses were given a health check and brief test behind the wheel before receiving their Saudi permits from the Riydah traffic office.
They had been selected from the thousands who have applied, with many more licenses due to be issued by 24 June, when the ban is due to be lifted.
In a country with very limited public transport, the right to drive is an important liberation for women who want to work, meet friends or take their children to school.
For years women have been forced to spend a large slice of their salary on a driver or depend on a combination of taxis, friends and relatives.
So many wanted to learn to drive that schools have been recruiting teachers abroad, and there are waiting lists for driving classes.