Women in Saudi Arabia are now able to join the military as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman continues his efforts to modernise the kingdom.
Military roles in the army, air force, navy, missile force and armed medical services will now be open to women.
They will be able to join at any rank between soldier and sergeant if they are aged between 21 and 40 and have no criminal convictions.
Women must also not marry a non Saudi citizen and have to possess a high school education to be eligible to sign up.
Jobs have slowly been opening up for women in Saudi Arabia as bin Salman bids to improve the country’s image abroad.
His ‘vision 2030’ project hopes to attract foreign investment by modernising many of the kingdom’s antiquated customs.
It is now common to see women working as cashiers in shops, waiting tables and working in coffee houses, professions which were outlawed until recently.
But in spite of the reforms which allow women to work, drive and travel independently, women’s rights are still a major issue amid a recent crackdown on dissenters.
Earlier this month, one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent political activists was released from prison after serving nearly three years on charges that sparked an international uproar over the kingdom’s human rights record.
Loujain al-Hathloul, who pushed to end a ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, was arrested in 2018 and sentenced to almost six years in prison last December under a broad counterterrorism law.
Human rights lawyer Baroness Helena Kennedy previously wrote in a report that women’s rights activists including Loujain were forced to kiss and perform sex acts on their interrogators in jails in Saudi Arabia.
They were also made to watch pornography, threatened with rape, hung from the ceiling, beaten and suffered electric shocks during treatment which ‘amounted to torture’.
Louijain was held for 1001 days, with time in pre-trial detention and solitary confinement.
She was accused of crimes such as agitating for change, using the internet to cause disorder and pursuing a foreign agenda – charges that rights groups describe as politically motivated.
‘Loujain is at home!!!!!!’ her sister Lina al-Hathloul declared on Twitter alongside a screenshot showing a flushed Loujain beaming on a family video call.
The release Wednesday, earlier than anticipated, comes as Saudi Arabia faces new scrutiny from the United States, where President Joe Biden has vowed to reassess the U.S.-Saudi partnership and stand up for human rights and democratic principles.
‘I have some welcome news that the Saudi government has released a prominent human rights activist,’ Biden said in a speech at the Pentagon. ‘She was a powerful activist for women’s rights and releasing her was the right thing to do.’
Biden had labeled Saudi Arabia a ‘pariah’ on the campaign trial and promised to reverse former President Donald Trump’s policy of giving the country ‘a blank check to pursue a disastrous set of policies,’ including the targeting of female activists.
The harsh crackdown against women who had pressed for the right to drive before the kingdom lifted the ban in mid-2018 came to symbolize the dual strategy of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The young, ambitious prince has sought to portray himself as a liberalizing reformer while also silencing and detaining activists who long had pushed for change.
The United Nations welcomed al-Hathloul’s release but U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said ‘it is important that others who are in the same condition as her, who have been jailed for the same reasons as her, also be released and that charges be dropped against them.’
Prince Mohammed cultivated close relations with the Trump administration, which members of Congress say largely shielded the kingdom from censure over its human rights record and instead sought to prioritize lucrative weapons deals