A Saudi women's soccer team practices in secret, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 2012 (Photo: AP)
For the first time, girls at private schools in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to play sports, according to the country's official press agency SPA.
A spokesperson for the Saudi education ministry said the decision "stems from the teachings of our religion, which allow women such activities in accordance with sharia."
However, under Saudi law, all girls must "dress modestly" while playing (they can't be seen by men while "jogging in trousers," for instance). The girls in the photo at the top had to practice in secret.
This is "the latest in a series of incremental changes aimed at slowly increasing women's rights in the ultraconservative kingdom," according to The Guardian.
One Saudi blogger said the move isn't a big deal in and of itself: "Private schools already have a physical education program, and the government knows about them," according to Eman al-Nafjan.
But al-Nafjan also suggested it "might be a feeler to see if there's any backlash from society," and that it could lead to phys-ed programs for girls in Saudi public schools.
Sport for women in Saudi Arabia is mainly limited to the elite - who can afford memberships to exclusive health clubs, which are usually attached to hospitals. Women's gyms were closed on the grounds they were "unlicensed."
Female athletes can't register at sports clubs or league competitions, and they're banned from entering national trials, meaning they can't enter international competitions. Two Saudi female athletes did compete at the London Olympics last year, but they lived outside of Saudi Arabia.
Meantime, Saudi Arabia's government has also launched a campaign against domestic violence - the first of its kind there.
The campaign is called "No More Abuse," and the English version of the poster reads "Some things can't be covered," while the Arabic version translates roughly as "the tip of the iceberg," according to Foreign Policy's David Kenner.
The campaign's website includes resource centres that women (and children) can call or go to if they're abused.
As Salon points out, "For women who have unsupervised access to the Internet, this is an enormous victory. For those who don't have computers or who have their Internet usage monitored by an abusive partner or family member, there is clearly more work to be done to ensure they can safely escape violent situations."
It's hard to find exact figures on domestic violence and abuse in Saudia Arabia. A U.S. State Department report estimated that anywhere from 16 to 50 per cent of Saudi wives suffer some kind of spousal abuse.
Saudi columnist Samar Fatany told Al Arabiya one in every six women is abused verbally, physically or emotionally every day, and 90 per cent of the abusers are usually husbands or fathers.
Laws don't criminalize domestic violence or spousal rape, according to the Washington Post, and women who do report violence may face serious social repercussions.
In 2008, Saudi Arabia's prime minister ordered the government to expand "social protection units" (ie: women's shelters) in several large cities, and to create a national strategy to deal with domestic violence.
In its 2012 Global Gender Gap report, the World Economic Forum ranked Saudi Arabia 131st out of 135 for its record on women's rights.
Women are not allowed to drive, and they can't travel or go to school without the permission of a male guardian, as women are still legally considered minors.
Via The Guardian