Saudi Arabia To Open Up Gym Class For Girls

Grace Carr | Reporter

Women in Saudi Arabia can’t drive but at least now they can play sports.

Female sports and exercise has not been looked at favorably in Saudi Arabia because conservatives consider it immodest for women to run around and sweat. However, Saudi public schools are finally letting girls take physical education classes this coming school year, according to the Ministry of Education’s Tuesday announcement. Until now, PE classes have not existed in its public schools and have been included in only a few private schools’ curricula, according to Reuters.

Saudi Arabia deviates little from strict interpretations of Islamic law, which requires women to dress modestly and have a male escort at all times. Women are also not allowed to swim in public pools, try on clothes while shopping, attend sports events or become judges, and they are forbidden from interacting with men not their family at any length.

The Shura Council approved PE for girls in 2014, but the decision was never implemented because clerics refused, claiming female athletics was unwanted “Westernisation.”

Little by little, however, the Saudi government has begun implementing reforms, largely to expand the female work force. The decision to allow girls to play sports in school was also reversed because of the country’s terrible obesity problem. Seven out of 10 Saudis are obese and 37 percent of Saudi women are overweight, a 2014 study reported.

And the problem has only been growing worse. According to a 2017 study, 75 percent of adults and up to 40 percent of children in Saudi Arabia are obese or overweight. Saudi Arabia’s health care system is also crumbling under the heavy load because health insurance doesn’t cover obesity surgery or complications.

The new physical education classes look to be an early start to tackling this problem.

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