The Telegraph . Sun, February 21, 2021, 5:06 PM GMT+1
Saudi Arabia is allowing women to join its military, the Kingdom’s defence ministry announced on Sunday, in its latest efforts to improve its image abroad.
Military ranks from soldier to sergeant are now available to women in the Saudi Arabian Army, Royal Saudi Air Defence, Navy and Strategic Missile Force and the Armed Forces Medical Services.
Women between 21 and 40 who have a clean criminal record, are not married to a non-Saudi Arabian citizens and have at least a high-school education are eligible to sign up to the forces.
The move comes under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “vision 2030” initiative – the 35-year-old prince’s efforts to modernise the kingdom, attract foreign investment and improve its reputation.
Despite reforms on driving, employment and freedom of movement over recent years, women’s rights remains a major criticism of the Kingdom.
“While these measures are important, many activists who advocated for these reforms remain imprisoned, silenced, or in exile,” a Human Rights Watch report read following the release of prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul last week. “These reform announcements may also serve to deflect attention from continuing repression.”
Lina al-Hathloul, Loujain’s younger sister, also sent a letter to one of the UK’s star female jockeys, Hollie Doyle, urging her to boycott the Saudi Cup over women’s rights abuses.
“The authorities and their expensive PR advisers want to use events like the Saudi Cup to show the world that the country has changed – but away from these glamorous events the brutality goes on,” the letter, first reported by The Independent, read.
Women’s rights activists such as Samar Badawi, Nassima al-Sadah and Mayaa al-Zahrani remain in Saudi prisons because of their activism, Lina added.
Human rights organisations said that Loujain al-Hathloul faced sexual harassment and torture during her time in Saudi jail for campaigning for an end to the male guardianship system and ban on female driving. Despite reforms allowing women to drive coming into effect weeks after Loujain’s arrest, she remained imprisoned until last week.