- - Sunday, December 14, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Loujain Al-Hathlool. This is the name that every woman in the West should know. Loujain is a young woman who drove her car trying to cross into Saudi Arabia but was stopped and then arrested after spending the night inside the car at the Saudi border with the United Arab Emirates.

That women in Saudi Arabia are oppressed is common knowledge. They remain a subjugated class of human beings who live under a long list of bans that make their lives a living hell, and sometimes literally cause them to die. While the ban on driving tends to get most of the news coverage, the worse one yet may be the ban on physical education and activity, and sports in general. This ban claims the lives and health of thousands of women every year.

“Killing Them Softly - Saudi Ban on Women Sports is Harming Their Health”, a report released recently by the DC-based Institute for Gulf Affairs, shows that bans placed on Saudi women can indeed kill them in one way or another. The report provides ample evidence that bans on driving, physical education, sports participation and access to exercise facilities have with time harmed the health of the female Saudi population.

Analyzing the available data on women’s health, the report reveals that the current condition of women’s health in the country is nothing short of miserable. Women are afflicted by higher rates of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, and heart diseases than men. In addition, women suffer greater rates of unemployment, and physiological conditions such as depression. Most of these diseases are directly linked to the lack of physical activity and a healthy lifestyle.

Unlike men, women in Saudi Arabia do not have the luxury of partaking in physical exercise that’s so vital for their health. Girls’ schools do not teach physical education due to fears for their “modesty”. Women and girls are thus forced to remain sedentary and hidden for fears of becoming “broken” and thus less valuable as future wives and mothers.

The ban on sports and physical exercise exacerbates the plethora of non-communicable diseases that afflict Saudi women, including cardiovascular illnesses, vitamin C deficiency, diabetes and obesity. These diseases are growing rampant in the female population, and as their rates continue to rise, are sure to continue to kill women.

The ban on driving, too, is guilty of taking lives. In emergencies, women cannot drive themselves or loved ones to medical facilities, which means that family members, who could be saved if they reached medical assistance in time, may have to die. It is estimated that thousands, especially men and children, die annually because they are not taken to the emergency room in time.

It is important to note that these bans are not Islamic and have no foundation in the Quran, especially to the extent claimed by the religious and political leaders of Saudi Arabia. These bans are in place for one reason only - to enhance the absolute control the Kingdom has over its people and suppress basic human rights.

Ossob Mohamud is a campaign coordinator for No Women No Play, aimed at lifting the ban on women sports in Saudi Arabia.

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