Saudi Arabia opens military recruitment to women

Saudi Arabia opens military recruitment to women
The move comes as rights groups continue to urge Riyadh to release all imprisoned women's rights activists.
3 min read
21 February, 2021
It is now possible for Saudi women to join the military [GETTY]
Women in Saudi Arabia can join the armed forces, the ministry of defence announced on Sunday, in latest advance of women's rights in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

Saudi women can apply to join the military via a unified admission portal, the ministry said, adding that ranks women join include soldier to sergeant in the army, air forces, navy and the armed forces' medical services.

While the usual criteria for acceptance, which include a clean record and being medically fit for service, are maintained, additional requirements were also added for women applicants.

Women must be between the ages of 21 and 40, have a height of 155 cm or taller and cannot be a government employee.

Women applicants must also hold an independent national identity card and have at least a high school education. Applicants married to non-Saudi citizens will not be accepted, the ministry said.

Allowing women to serve in the military has been a controversial topic in Gulf country over the past 30 years.

"It is very important for women to be in the military, where they can have an active role in our conservative society," Halah Al-Ynabawi, operating systems specialist told Arab News, praising the announcement.

Saudi Arabia announced in 2019 that women may soon serve in the armed forces as part of the kingdom's economic and social reform.

In January 2020, the Saudi military Chief of Staff Gen. Fayyad Al-Ruwaili inaugurated the first military section for women in the Saudi armed forces.

The move was part of the wider Saudi Vision 2030 initiative, which aims at reinforcing economic and investment activities, increasing non-oil international trade and promoting a softer and less conservative image of the kingdom.

In the recent years, Saudi women have gained better access to education and employment, and given more freedoms.

They have been allowed to drive, attend sporting events and travel without a man's permission.

However, rights groups have urged authorities to release women rights activists who have been imprisoned for their activism.

Released earlier this month, 31-year-old Loujain al-Hathloul was arrested in 2018 for campaigning for women's right to drive and for an end to the guardianship system.

Meanwhile, human rights defender Israa Al-Ghomgham was sentenced to eight years in prison last week for documenting protests that briefly erupted in the Al-Qatif region, before they were supressed by authorities.

In December, rights group Amnesty International urged the Saudi government to "immediately and unconditionally" release all the women human rights defenders and drop all the charges against them.

"The kingdom can't pretend to reform women's rights and push for progress and women's empowerment while it imprisons and tortures peaceful women activists who simply called for basic human rights like the right to drive a car," the group told The New Arab.

"They are champions of change, not criminals."

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