Human Rights Watch have a new report on the denial of women's and girls' right to sport in Saudi Arabia:
As the world prepares for the 2012 Olympics, the Saudi government is systematically discriminating against women in sports and physical education, and has never sent a female athlete to the Olympics, with no penalty from the international Olympic authorities, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. Human Rights Watch called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make ending discrimination against women in sports in the kingdom a condition for Saudi Arabia’s participation in Olympic sporting events, including the 2012 London Games.
“‘No women allowed,’ is the kingdom’s message to Saudi women and girls who want to play sports,” said Christoph Wilcke, senior Middle East researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The fact that women and girls cannot train to compete clearly violates the Olympic Charter’s pledge to equality and gives the Olympic movement itself a black eye.”
Saudi Arabia has one of the worst records on women’s rights, as Human Rights Watch has extensively documented, notably in its report “Perpetual Minors” of 2008. The government does not allow women to drive, and it enforces a male guardianship system that treats women as minors in all aspects of life. In addition, there is strict gender segregation in public, including in the workplace. Male guardianship and gender segregation restrict women’s freedom to leave the house, to work, to participate in public life, and even to go to government offices and to courts.
A focus on sports has two advantages for advancing women’s rights and welfare in the kingdom. Firstly, denying women the ability to practice sports is increasingly recognized as detrimental to Saudi public health, and, with the planning in 2011 and 2012 for a new National School Sports Strategy, there is a real opportunity to persuade Saudi officials to include physical education for girls. Secondly, the ability to practice sports is intimately tied to the fundamental problems of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia: how can women exercise without being able to drive to sports facilities; how can they travel for matches and tournaments while always needing the approval of a male guardian? Ending discrimination in sports has the potential to widen cracks in the guardianship system and other discriminatory practices.
There've been reports that Saudi Arabia is reneging on its earlier agreement to allow women to participate in London 2012. It may seem an academic point, but the Kingdom does in fact have a potential female Olympic athlete in showjumper Dalma Rushdi Malhas. According to an HRW update, some kind of compromise seems on the cards:
Saudi equestrian Dalma Rushdi Malhas, who won a bronze medal in show jumping in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, or another female athlete may attend the 2012 Olympics in London as an individual athlete and not a member of the official delegation. The Saudi National Olympic Committee has indicated it will not interfere with an individiual woman athlete attending on the basis of an invitation. Saudi Arabia could even add Malhas to its team, hoping to use her attendance to diffuse criticism over its discriminatory policies. In either case, Malhas’ participation would be a welcome, but small step, and should not blind the IOC to the need for a much more systemic plan to end discrimination against Saudi women in sports. At present, Malhas’s participation has not been confirmed.
While Seb Coe and the International Olympic Committee are trying to play the whole thing down, human rights lawyer and former Olympic swimmer Nikki Dryden echoes the HRW call: Why Won’t IOC Push Saudi Arabia on Women for Olympic Games?