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For the first time ever Saudi Arabia has announced that Saudi women will be allowed to compete in the Olympics. Saudi Arabia is one of three countries the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has been pressuring to allow female competitors. The other two countries, Qatar and Brunei, have also announced that they will be sending athletes this year. Qatar will be sending three women: a shooter, a swimmer, and a runner; and Brunei will send a woman for the hurdling title.
The Saudi Embassy in London issued a statement announcing the decision which stated, “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wishes to reaffirm its support the sublime meanings reflected by Olympic Games and the cherished values of excellence, friendship, and respect that they represent.”
The IOC has been working for several months with the Saudi government and issued a positive statement on March 19 that read, “the IOC is confident that Saudi Arabia is working to include women athletes and officials at the Olympic Games in London in accordance with the International Federations’ rules.”
Minky Worden, the director of Global Initiatives at Human Rights Watch said, “It is only right that the Saudi government should play by the Olympic rules. But an 11th-hour change of course to avoid a ban does not alter the dismal and unequal conditions of women and girls in Saudi Arabia.” Worden did admit that the announcement “pins them down to finding a woman. The Saudis should be on a bit of a desperate search” right now.
The Saudis have already allowed one woman, Dalma Rushdi Malhas, to compete in the equestrian competition at the Singapore Youth Olympics. After hearing the announcement that women will now be allowed to compete in the Olympics Malhas said it was “a dream come true. This just opens so many doors for women.”
Unfortunately, due to an injury her horse has suffered, Malhas missed the June 17 qualification and will not be prepared for this Olympic competition. She is still hoping that she will be able to attend the next equestrian competition at the Olympics.
Earlier this year the Human Rights Watch advocacy group said that the reason why women were not allowed to compete in sports came form a “predominant conservative view that opening sports to women and girls will lead to immorality: ‘steps of the devil’ as one prominent religious scholar put it.”
In Saudi Arabia women cannot drive, vote or hold public office, although some of these restrictions may change in 2015. Women are also not allowed to marry, leave the country, open bank accounts, or go to school unless they have the permission of a male guardian such as a father, husband, or brother.
In 2009 and 2010 Saudi Arabia closed its private gyms for women. The only exception for this restriction is the Jeddah United basketball section which is a private sports company.
Previously, female athletes were banned from the Olympics because the crowd includes both men and women who would be watching these women.
King Abdullah came to the throne in 2005 and has tried to do some modern reforms. However, the king has faced large opposition from religious conservatives on every policy that would ease restrictions against women.
One area that King Abdullah has tried to ease restrictions on is driving, but he has heard opposition on this as well.
Manal al Sharif, a Saudi female activist, was arrested and jailed after posting a video on YouTube of her driving. Sharif is helping to organize- and is participating in- the second annual driving protest. Sharif said about the Olympic decision that it “isn’t one of those things we’re crying out for” because they are more interested in their “basic rights.”
Image Courtesy of Foxtongue