Sunday, November 21, 2010

87: The Self-Empowered Woman: Saudi Women/Sports

Dear Followers,

Thanks to Katherine Zoepf of the New York Times, I've learned about an issue that should be of interest to all of us who took sports and physical activity for granted as just another unremarkable part of life as an American woman.

The girl wearing a green jacket is Dalma Malhas, an 18 year-old Saudi Arabian equestrian who recently won a bronze medal in show jumping at the first Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. What makes this achievement noteworthy is that she had to enter the competition on her own and pay her own expenses. Malhas is the first Saudi woman to ever compete in an international event.

Physical activity is forbidden in Saudi Arabia's state-run girls' schools, and conservative Muslims consider sports for women either immodest or (potentially) immoral. A few large Saudi cities have gyms where women can workout, but they are usually unmarked to avoid attention.

So here comes the kicker. Saudi Arabia (like Brunei and Qatar) does not permit women to compete in international athletic competitions, which means no women can be part of the Olympic Games.

The man pictured above is Ali al-Ahmed, a Saudi dissident, who directs the Institute for Gulf Affairs in Washington, D.C.. Three months ago, he began a campaign called No Women, No Play, with the goal of urging the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to suspend Saudi Arabia from future competitions until women are allowed to participate.

Critics might consider this a case of feminism gone wild, but the precedent was set in 1964, when the IOC banned South Africa because of apartheid. The Olympic Charter states, "... sport is a human right..." and "... discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement."

The woman in white is Lina al-Maeena, who founded a growing and very popular women's basketball team named Jeddah United. But whether or not liberal Saudis approve of gyms for females, the fact is that Saudi Arabia is a monarchy in which the king and a Salafist religious establishment create the laws. Unfortunately, most of the clerics oppose sports for women because it's felt that athletic females might a) wear immodest clothes, b) want to travel, c) compete in public, d) leave their homes unnecessarily, and (if virgins) e) damage their hymens and become unmarriageable.

Ms. Maeena has tried to put a good face on her country's restrictive approach by arguing that the U.S. didn't give women "equal rights" in sports until Title IX passed in 1972. And while that "equality" changed academic sports, the truth is that American women had been participating in sports and competing in the Olympics decades earlier.

How lucky we are that our grandmothers and granddaughters were and are able to play tennis, golf, ride, run, and compete without fear of government reprisal. Hats off to Dalma Malhas!

Looking forward to your comments...


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  3. as a person who lived most of his life in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I would like to make very important point, the man referred to in this article who is named Ali al-Ahmed is a fanatic Shiite cleric, is trying to harm the Kingdom by hiding his real religious face and showing his fake liberalism face in front of the U.S. media. Everyone knows Iran hates America and Saudi Arabia. I do not respect this man, he is a hypocrite author.
    each year, this man receives a lot of financial supports from Iran to abuse the picture of Saudi Arabia in the Media.
    Regarding the issue of women’s sport, everybody knows that the Kingdom's population is very small (around 15 million people). Most of them live in rich lifestyle and many of them have no interest in the sport, and the problem of Saudi involvement in the sport is not limited to the participation of women. In fact, Saudi men still refused to participate in the official sport events and this why the Saudi soccer players are component of those who have been granted citizenship recently and they are originally from deferent several countries. Look at how old your country is and look at how old Saudi Arabia is? Look at the women right in your country after 100 from the date it is founded and compare it with the women right in Saudi Arabia nowadays.