As we come upon the holiday season, generally we reflect on our year and the things in our life we have to be thankful for. So coming across this story really hit hard for me as a tennis, soccer
, and female runner
in America, and reminded me of all I have to be thankful for the rights I am given as a woman in the United States of America.
Last week, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia made history by declaring that women now have the right to vote, making it one of the first steps towards women’s rights in the Middle East. However, even though the King has given this right to women (the next election isn’t even until 2015!!), many the broader issues of women's rights that affect a woman’s day to day life in the country have not been addressed whatsoever. For example, women still do not having the right to drive and they also require a male relative's permission to work or leave the country (Reuters
). Women, of course, are also not allowed to play competitive sports
, "Some clerics condemn women’s sports as corrupting and satanic and charge that it spreads decadence. They warn that running and jumping can damage a woman’s hymen and ruin her chances of getting married (mideastposts.com
)” But recently, two brave Saudi women, soccer player Rima Abdallah and basketball player Hadir Sadqa, have established a female soccer and basketball team in the port city of Jeddah in “a bid to persuade the government to allow and support women’s right to engage in competitive sports (mideastposts.com
).” In a HUGE effort to continue participating in an activity they got to enjoy only as children, these courageous women have shown their faces to the media and their government, enduring attacks, hatred, and controversy, to try to prove that they can enjoy sports while still respecting the laws of their religion-it does not have to be one or another. “At first we would play in closed areas behind fences, so nobody would know”, says Abdallah, “At some point, I realized that this must be developed, so I turned to the media to make the authorities see that there are women who have the right to represent [Saudi Arabia] one day. We kept on playing this way. We paid all the expenses out of our own pockets. We did not have our own soccer fields, so we had to rent them. We looked only for secluded soccer fields, so that men would not go there(mideastsports.com
).” To even further protect themselves, in order to play on the soccer or basketball team, women do have to get authorization from a male in their family. And these women are not just respectful to men while trying to enjoy their sports, they are courteous to the team they are playing against by dressing in a uniform that is most pleasing to them and the audience of that particular match, sometimes playing in pants and covering their heads to show respect. By following the rules set by their government and religion, Abdallah and Hadir hope that one day Saudi Arabian women will be able to participate in global athletic events such as the Olympics and other international tournaments. Although Saudi Arabia has received criticism by the Olympic Committee for not establishing women’s teams for the Olympic Games competitions-for now women in this strict Middle Eastern country must be satisfied with simply their freedom to vote. And we must applaud Abdallah and Hadir's efforts to play by the rules and be thankful for the freedoms here in America to enjoy the rewards of playing sport.