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Opening Female Gyms in Saudi Arabia: Saudi Women Unhurriedly Acquire Basic Rights

Opening Female Gyms in Saudi Arabia: Saudi Women Unhurriedly Acquire Basic Rights

Sarah Attar, track and field athlete who represented Saudi Arabia in the Olympics. Credit: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

In a step that proves that Saudi women are attempting to change the rules of the game, Saudi Arabia has finally announced that female gyms will be launched by the end of February.

According to Saudi local newspaper Okaz, only gyms that want to promote fitness will be licensed, and competitive sports including Football and Tennis will not be included.

Princess Rima bint Bandar said that about 250,000 jobs will be created as a result of this initiative, adding that they aim to have a gym for females in every district and neighborhood in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

Princess Rima told Okaz that it is not her responsibility to convince her society with the importance of sports, but her responsibility is to open doors for girls to a healthy lifestyle away from diseases that result from obesity and lack of movement.

Having spent most of her youth between the United States and France, Princess Rima tries to defend women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, including increasing their participation in the workplace.

Although the idea of licensed gyms for females wasn’t encouraged at the beginning, the announced decision was clear in terms of exclusion of competitive sports. Statistics have revealed that the rate of obesity among Saudi women is much higher compared to the rate among men.

Saudi Arabia imposes several restrictions on physical activities for females; girls at school are not allowed to play sports. Only four Saudi women took part in the 2016 Olympics that was held in Rio De Janeiro, compared to only two in the 2012 Olympics that was held in London.

Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to travel, drive, work or get health care without the approval of their in loco parentis, even if they are not minors.

Saudi Arabia is currently undertaking a modernization program known as “Saudi vision 2030”, in which women’s participation in the workforce will increase from 22 percent to 30 percent.

In December 2016, a music video was released, showing Saudi niqabi women dancing, driving and breaking the majority of the Saudi taboos and restrictions on women in an attempt to end excessive patriarchal authority over women. The low-resolution video has gained nearly 8.5 million views.

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