Saudi girls will be allowed to play sport in private schools for the first time.
In the latest of a series of incremental changes aimed at increasing women’s rights in the ultra-conservative kingdom, private girls’ schools are now permitted to hold sports activities that comply with the rules of sharia.
Students must adhere to “decent dress” codes and female teachers will be given priority in supervising the activities, according to the education ministry’s requirements.
“It’s about time,” said Aziza Youssef, a professor at King Saud University. “Everything is being held back in Saudi Arabia,” she added.
An education ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Dakhini said that the monumental decision “stems from the teachings of our religion, which allow women such activities in accordance with sharia.”
Sport for women has been largely restricted to those who can afford membership of expensive health clubs. They are often attached to hospitals since women’s gyms were closed in 2010 on the grounds that they were unlicensed.
The decision makes sport a stage for the push to improve women’s rights once again, nearly a year after two Saudi female athletes made an unprecedented appearance at the London 2012 Olympics.
Saudi Arabia allowed the athletes to compete only after the International Olympics Committee put intense pressure on the kingdom to end its practice of sending just male teams to the Games. Their participation was not shown on Saudi TV stations.