Saudi Arabia allows women to join the armed forces

Kingdom describes move as “another step to empowerment"

Saudi women leave a shoopping mall on November 7, 2013. Saudi Arabia has the Arab world's largest economy, but the unemployment rate among natives is above 12.5 percent, a figure the government is aiming to reduce. AFP PHOTO/FAYEZ NURELDINE (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP)
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Women in Saudi Arabia are now able to join the armed forces as part of the kingdom’s social and economic reform plan.

The decision is one of many reforms aimed at enhancing female rights introduced by the kingdom during the last year.

“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.

In January the Ministry for Labour and Social Development issued a raft of directives regarding the working environment for women, including the demand that women are paid equally with men.

About 20 per cent of Saudi female workforce were unemployed in 2018, according to the latest figures from the World Bank.

“I look forward to watching Saudi Arabia’s women lead across many industries, including serving in the country’s military,” Hend Al Otaiba, director of strategic communications at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation said on Twitter.

The kingdom opened applications for women to join the military last year.

They were given the choice to join security services in the interior ministry, in the departments of criminal investigations, security patrol and pilgrimage security.

King Salman signed a decree last week permitting women to travel or obtain a passport without the permission of male guardians.

The former system required women to seek permission of their guardian – usually their father or husband, but sometimes a brother or son – to marry, apply for a passport and leave the country.

The amendments also grant women the right to register child birth, marriage or divorce, and to be issued official family documents and be eligible as a guardian to children who are minors.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has lifted restrictions, many of which apply solely to women, to transform the country's economy.

In June 2018, King Salman announced that women will be permitted to drive, while female audiences were allowed to attend football matches.

They also no longer need permission from a male guardian to study at university, undergo surgery or get a job.