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Two Saudi women is a nice gesture but not enough

Saudi Women Olympics

Saudi Arabia threatened to withdraw from Olympics after the International judo Federation said that Saudi female competitor would have to fight without headscarf

July 29, 2012 9:10 by

For a while now, the Human Rights Watch has been breathing down Saudi Arabia’s neck in disapproval of many its traditions, procedures and policies that negatively affect women and limit their opportunities. They have come out to lash at them again by saying that sending two Saudi female athletes to the London Olympics is not enough to address the real issues beneath the surface.

Kipp reckons that the words of the HRW are definitely sugar coated and while the gesture may sit well with the Middle East region, their contribution towards loosening the discriminatory chains is laughable.

The degree of gender discrimination in the Kingdom has all Human Rights groups in fumes, particularly in specific occasions that catch the global eyes. While sending two females to represent Saudi Arabia may be a landmark for the Kingdom; it is only because the bar has been set way too low until now.

A charitable move as it may be, deserving two slow rounds of applause, it does not create a dent in the bubble of controversy surrounding their bans and restrictions over their national women. Saudi Arabia should end the effective ban preventing millions of women and girls from practicing sports inside the kingdom, said the Human Rights Watch. Oh boy, we would have better luck adding another Smurfette character in the village.

Funnily enough, The International Olympic Committee says that the women were invited to compete under a universality clause; effectively allowing participation regardless of qualification but rather to be stamped as significant under the “banner of equality”.

“That two women will compete for the Saudi team for the first time in the history of the Olympics is a first step,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “But the race for gender equality in Saudi Arabia cannot be won until the millions of women and girls who are now deprived of athletic opportunities can also exercise their right to practice sports.”

As we take advantage of our various lifestyles improved drastically by living in this day and age, many are shocked to know that SA is the only country in the world that bars girls from taking part in sports in government schools and no state sport infrastructure for women. Meanwhile, men have exclusive access to designated buildings, courses, sport clubs, expert trainers and many more privileges that are not limited to sports.

In a recent study by Reuters, Saudi Arabia was listed as one of the worst countries for a woman to live in.

Saudi Arabia’s male guardianship of women and policies of sex segregation stop women from enjoying their basic rights, Human Rights Watch said in a report a few years ago. Saudi women often must obtain permission from a guardian (a father, husband, or even a son) to work, travel, study, marry, or even access health care.

We can definitely applaud the efforts of the Human Rights Watch for continuing to pressure the Kingdom into becoming more lenient; giving women more room to breathe but the issue of women’s rights has been an old one and while it has definitely become less of a problem compared to 5 decades ago; it seems that there is still a long way to go.

Photo Credit: Reuters

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1 Comment

  1. Precious de Leon on August 1, 2012 3:25 pm

    I agree that the progress of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia should be farther along. However, we must remember that while to the rest of the world, the progress in women’s rights in Saudi Arabia may seem like a slow crawl, King Abdullah has actually done a lot to improve women’s rights–and in Saudi pace it’s been lightning fast. Please also remember to mention that along with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei were also sending female athletes to the Olympics for the first time.

    And in the spirit of universality, there is also the contention that the media seem to have missed. Saudi female athlete Judoka Wojdan Shahrkhani was put in the middle of a controversy on whether or not the hijab was going to be allowed in the Judo competitions. This was particularly interesting considering that the Asian Federation allows it and most competitors don’t see it as a substantial hazard. So perhaps the IOC and its partners have some growing up to do as well, in terms of integrating people of different cultures and beliefs.


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