I’m a bit late to the party here, but I love this story so much that I want to share it.
It’s well known that Saudi Arabia is, shall we say, a little behind the times when it comes to women’s lib. Women can’t even drive cars, nor can they hold jobs or open bank accounts without a man’s permission. (But they can vote…in 2015.)
Saudi Arabia is one of three Olympic counties to have never fielded a female athlete. The country does, however, have a female basketball team, the Jeddah United. When they played the Jordanian national team in 2009, a photo of the team was run in a a local newspaper under the headline “Shameless Girls.”
You’ll probably remember the hard-hitting report issued by Human Rights Watch earlier this year that exposed how Saudi women athletes are discriminated against “by restricting their access to physical education and sports clubs and by having an ‘effective ban’ on women competing at a national level.”
This is enough to put anyone in a mild rage coma. Playing a sport, any sport, is something women in the Global West take for granted. Physical activity has many, many health benefits. Women in countries where playing sports is effectively banned miss out on these benefits. It isn’t fair.
But now a state-run girls’ school in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province has bucked the sports ban and built basketball hoops and encourages its students to play. It’s the first state-run school in the country to do so.
The cynic in me thinks that this must be a response to the HRW report mentioned above. After all, the unnamed school still does not offer any physical education classes. And it’s entirely possible that it’s too early to tell how well-received this new focus on physical activity will be.
But even if this is only an entirely too narrow response to international pressure, I feel encouraged, because that means that international pressure can work to make the lives of people halfway across the globe better. If you are someone who believes that human rights are universal — and I do — then we should take heart in these developments.
And if this is an entirely homegrown phenomenon, well, that’s even more awesome. In any case, this one school in Saudi Arabia gives me hope that, actually, the world is getting better, not worse.
Image credit: j9sk9s