The Kingdom is Changing: Saudi Arabia To Allow Women's Sports Clubs
BY: SHIREEN AHMED
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has announced that athletic activity for women may be sanctioned in the form of segregated sports clubs.
This is welcome news considering that in 2009 a Saudi cleric declared that women ought not to participate in sports because they may lose their virginity; as exercise would "tear their hymens". *hijabdesk*
In state-run schools, physical education is not taught to young girls. They may start to skip, jumo, run play football and then there is the risk to the family honour.
Any athletic facility for women needed to be licensed by the Health Ministry as a "health center".
Privately and quietly, women and girls had set up football and basketball teams using hospitals and clinics as their base- and as a shield.
Fortunately, now there has been a ministerial committee set up to allow and mandate sports clubs for women in which they may be able to train and workout. The existing General Presidency of Youth Welfare - often acting as a Sports ministry- was only used for men and boys interests.
2012 was a big year for Saudi women's sports: it was the first time they sent female athletes to participate in the Olympic Games; a judoka (Wojdan Shaherkani) and a sprinter (Sarah Attar) who has trained abroad.
It was from tremendous pressure from the International Olympic Committee and Human Rights Groups that the women were allowed to go ahead and join their male counterparts on the Olympic National Team.
Sadly, the appearance of female Saudi athletes in the opening ceremonies was not without drama and they were criticized through social media by misogynists and labelled "olympic whores".
Obviously, there needs to be change at the societal level and support for women in their efforts to gain gender equality and access to services. Their efforts are within the acceptable Islamic guidelines of dress and segregation- as expected by Saudi society. No other Muslim country in the Arab world and beyond, has the same level of restrictions imposed on women with regards to sports.
In January 2013, King Abdullah selected 30 women to be part of a Shura Counsel in Saudi Arabia in order to hear and address the concerns of female citizens and suggest amendments to legislation. 20% of the Shura would be comprised of women.
It seems as if things may be changing, albeit at a snail's pace, for women in Saudi Arabia.
In a country where the basic right of mobility granting women the right to access to gyms and sports facilities is somewhat appeasing. Right to cardio or kickboxing class is important but may pale in comparison to other struggles.
Driving is still not allowed for women in Saudi Arabia and is perhaps the most contentious social and political issue for Saudi women. It has become a global campaign of awareness and advocacy through social media.
King Abdullah is reputed to be more progressive than other members of the reigning Saudi Royal Family. He has tried to push for greater educational opportunities for women despite opposition from conservative religious figures.
The difficulty is that he may not push too quickly as to 'put-off' opponents citing Sharia law but if he doesn't speed up process- he may die before anything is actually implemented. King Abdullah is almost ninety years old.
To this day, Saudi women require permission from a male relative (father, husband, brother) in order to travel, open a bank account, attend University and work outside the home.
That women have represented Saudi Arabia in international sports events and are now being represented at a political level is very important. This step towards allowing women's sports clubs is very important. It recognizes and addresses the physical and emotional needs of the female Saudi population.
Last year, Saudi Arabia changed one of its' laws to allow women to attend public matches in Football stadiums where they were previously denied entry. Segregation is enforced in Saudi Arabia and women were not allowed as there may be the potential of inter-mingling of sexes in the stadiums.
There may be a bit of welcome change in the desert air with regards to women and their role in sports.
Al-Watan daily reported Friday that this allowance for women's sports clubs was made after the Interior Ministry reviewed a study declaring there were 'flaws and a lack of satisfaction' in the existing system. *cough*
Noted is that these opportunities may be accessible for the wealthy and privileged.populations of Saudi Arabia.
It is encouraging that Saudi women are being given the chance to work out, live healthy and active lifestyles.
Perhaps maybe one day they may be allowed to drive themselves to a sportsclub.