"It is essential that girls around the kingdom have the opportunity to build their bodies, to care for their bodies, and to respect their bodies."
Photo: Getty/Fayez Nureldine
Saudi Arabia is known for restricting the rights of women: Women don't have the right to drive, and they currently need male permission (usually from their husband or father) in order to travel, rent an apartment, receive certain health care services, and more. Women weren't allowed to compete in the Olympics until 2012 (and that was only after the International Olympic Committee threatened to bar the country if they continued to exclude women).
But earlier this week, the Saudi education ministry announced that public schools will start offering gym classes for girls in the coming academic year. "This decision is important, especially for public schools," Hatoon al-Fassi, a Saudi academic who studies women's history, told the New York Times. "It is essential that girls around the kingdom have the opportunity to build their bodies, to care for their bodies, and to respect their bodies."
Ultraconservative laws have historically banned women from sports participation for fear that wearing athletic clothes will promote immodesty (earlier this year, Nike became the first major sportswear brand to design a hijab, making it easier for Muslim athletes to reach peak performance without sacrificing modesty) and that focusing on strength and physical fitness might corrupt a woman's sense of femininity, according to the Times.
The country technically began allowing private schools to offer physical education classes to girls four years ago, and families who approved had the option to enroll girls in private athletic clubs. But this is the first time Saudia Arabia has supported activity for all girls. P.E. activities will be rolled out gradually and in accordance with Islamic law.