Saudi authorities asked to allow school sport for girls: agency

Wed Apr 9, 2014 7:18am EDT
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By Angus McDowall

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi authorities have been asked to consider lifting a state school ban on sports for girls, according to the official SPA news agency, in a religiously conservative country that included women in its Olympic team for the first time only two years ago.

Under a strict interpretation of sharia, 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 appointed Shoura 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 they should conform to Sharia rules on dress and gender segregation.

Although it would not become law until the ministry and cabinet approved the idea, the council's vote represented a further pigeon step of progress for Saudi women.

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 for girls for years.

In 2012 Saudi Arabia included women in its Olympic team for the first time, a move that won support from many of its citizens but also prompted some to abuse the morals of the two female athletes, a runner and judoka, on social media.

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.   Continued...