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Saudi Girls’ School Encourages Physical Activity

Saudi Girls’ School Encourages Physical Activity

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.

Related posts:

Saudi Arabia Says No to Sending Women to the Olympics

We the Women: The Campaign to Drive in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabian Women Granted Voting Rights

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Image credit: j9sk9s

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11 comments

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6:08AM PDT on May 9, 2012

Thanks for the article.

7:17PM PDT on May 8, 2012

Wow! But the Saudis have also said that any women with alluring eyes will have to cover them -- in other words, the niqab, abaya and hijab isn't enough, if she's got sexy eyes.

So I hope that the girls on the team with alluring eyes will be wearing sunglasses, so they don't get beaten to death, if they don't get killed first from tripping over their abayas on a lay-up.

This rapid rate of progress in a Muslim country is just dizzying! Basketball one day, the next, who knows, maybe they could even own dogs without fear of the dogs being poisoned, because Muhammad hated dogs!

11:55AM PDT on May 8, 2012

I think it's an excellent start... no matter why they did it. It's a step in changing public opinion on what girls should be "allowed" to do.

9:45AM PDT on May 8, 2012

can they even move in those heavy burkas?

6:01AM PDT on May 8, 2012

One school. Wooooo-hoooooo.

They still can't drive and lots of them are forced to wear black tents that deprive them of vitamin D, leading to bone loss and other illnesses in them, and ricketts in their kids. They are still under sharia which values them as half a man's worth.

This would be like saying just one USA employer decided to pay women equally to men (oh boy! yayyyy!) while all the rest did not. Hardly a reason to start cheering quite yet.

5:49AM PDT on May 8, 2012

Thanks for the article.

1:43PM PDT on May 7, 2012

a step in the right direction may more follow for them

12:06PM PDT on May 7, 2012

This is a wonderful thing as it gives the girls the physical activity they need exercise wise and who knows, Maybe there is a future Olympian there.

11:44AM PDT on May 7, 2012

This is wonderful as it gives the girls something else to do for activities and who knows perhaps an Olympic team awaits them!

11:39AM PDT on May 7, 2012

It is a slow progress, but progress non the less and heading in the right direction.

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