First time ever at the Olympic Games: Two women competing under the Saudi flag!

Do you think sport and feminity are incompatible? No, we do not!

That is what Saudi Arabia thinks: women cannot do sport! They are neither allowed to play nor to be spectators in all major stadiums. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans girls from doing sport! However Saudi Arabia for the time in the Olympic Games History decided to send two women athletes to the London Games: Sarah Attar (800m race) and Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Sharkhani (judo, 78kg +).

We know that the situation for women in Saudi Arabia is not easy (Beauty in Saudi Arabia). They are not allowed to pursue higher education or leave the country without the approval of their father, husband, or brother…Therefore, when we hear that physical education is banned for girls in Saudi Arabia despite of the many official sports clubs, we could never imagine that Saudi government will allow women to participate at an international sporting event! In fact, « the International Olympic Committee has turned the tables by stipulating that Saudi men can only participate if accompanied by Saudi women » (Source: The Guardian)

Not many Saudi people have been supporting women participation at the Games! As social activists and national human rights organisations point out, some actions are more important to take such as allowing women to drive, making child brides illegal, giving more work opportunities to women. 

Minky Worden, Human Rights Watch’s Director of Global Initiatives said: « It’s an important precedent that will create space for women to get rights, and it will be hard for Saudi hardliners to roll back » (Source: BBC). “That two women will compete for the Saudi team for the first time in the history of the Olympics is a first step. 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.” (Source: Bikyamasr)

The participation of two Saudi female athletes in the London Games is definitely a huge step towards women’s conditions in Saudi society. However, there is still a lot to do to 

After the beginning of the week, International Olympic Committe agreed that Wojdan Shaherkani, the  judo fighter could wear a  headscarf during her matches: « Shaherkani had signed an agreement with Saudi Olympics officials that she could compete only if she wears « correct and approved » clothing that « sticks to Islamic principles » (Source: CNN). In fact, her father would never let his daughter compete if she could not wear the hijab! Rendez-vous on Friday 3rd to see Shaherkani compete.

What do you agree with the decision of International Olympic Committe allowing Wojdan Shaherkani to compete with the headscarf? Do you think that this is legitimate? 

Update – On August 3rd: Saudi Arabia’s judoka strikes blow for women’s rights at Olympics Wojdan Shaherkani has become the first Saudi woman to compete at the Games in London (The Guardian)