Dubai, July 12: Bringing a major reform in an education system, Saudi Arabia on Tuesday announced that the girls in public schools now onwards will have full access to sports, physical education etc. Notably, the major reform comes after years of calls by women across the kingdom demanding greater rights and access to sports.
The Education Ministry in a statement said that it will introduce the physical education classes “gradually” and “in accordance with (Islamic) Shariah regulations.” The Education Ministry also noted that the decision to introduce sports for girls was in line with the country’s sweeping Vision 2030 plan, a wide-reaching government plan to overhaul society and the economy. It is being spearheaded by the kingdom’s young heir to the throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The Ministry added that the plan mainly calls to encourage the participation of citizens in sports and athletic activities. It further said only 13 percent of the Saudi population exercises once a week. The government aims to bump that up to 40 percent and raise life expectancy from 74 years to 80 years.
However, the government’s decision to allow girls to play sports in public schools is very important in Saudi Arabia because women taking part in exercise is still seen as a prohibition. Interestingly, four years ago, Saudi approved sports for girls in private schools formally and women first participated in Saudi Arabia’s Olympic team during the 2012 London games.
The move to grant girls access to sports comes after years of campaigning by women’s rights activists, who have led calls to end male guardianship rules and lift the ban on women driving. The situation was worst earlier for Saudi women due to stringent restrictions.
Still, women are banned from driving and must seek the permission of a male guardian to travel abroad or obtain a passport. Restrictive male guardianship rules give men, usually the father or husband, huge sway over a woman’s life in Saudi Arabia. Women in Saudi Arabia must wear loose flowing robes known as “abayas” in public and most also cover their hair and face with black veils.
Importantly, Saudi Arabia implements strict gender segregation rules that often require women to sit in “family-only” sections of restaurants and cafes or to be banned entirely from establishments where segregated seating is unavailable.