The Guardian is reporting that Saudi authorities have been asked to consider lifting a state school ban on sports for girls, according to the official SPA news agency…
Under a strict interpretation of sharia law, Saudi women are banned from driving and must gain formal permission from a male relative to leave the country, start a job or open a bank account. But King Abdullah is pushing cautious social reforms improving women’s rights in the face of conservative resistance.
SPA said Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council, which advises the government on policy, had asked the education ministry to look into including sports for girls in state-run schools with the proviso that they should conform to sharia rules on dress and gender segregation.
Women were included in its Olympic team for the first time only two years ago.
Although the council’s decisions are not binding, they are seen as important in Saudi Arabia because it is the only official forum in which new laws and government policy on sensitive social issues are publicly discussed.
Members who supported the decision pointed to an increase in obesity-related illnesses in Saudi Arabia, particularly among women.
Those who opposed the decision said there were many schools that were not equipped to allow for girls’ sports. Some members also questioned whether physical education lessons had decreased obesity in boys.
A year ago, King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the 150-member chamber for the first time.
The world’s top oil exporter has maintained an official ban on sports classes for girls in state schools under pressure from religious conservatives.
A ban on sports in private girls’ schools was officially lifted last year, though some of those schools had already been providing physical education classes…