It’s a country known for it’s restrictions of freedom for women, but there are some awesome things happening in Saudi Arabia that may surprise you. Sports is one of those areas that women have previously been banned from, but in 2012 Saudi women were allowed to compete in the London Olympics and it opened up the possibility of strict laws being relaxed on women playing sports.
Just to recap, women are currently not allowed to drive, vote, or walk publicly without a male guardian by her side.
A company called Gloworks, a private company founded by a group of entrepreneurs who aim to empower women and diversify the workforce in the Kingdom. They are considered the biggest innovator when it comes to creating equal opportunities for women in Saudi Arabia.
According to their website women make up only 15% of the Saudi workforce, yet 60% of the female population hold PhD’s, yet are unemployed. This is what they are working to change, and it’s not just a workforce thing, it’s a cultural thing.
Aside from their recruitment company, founded only 4 years ago, they have just launched Glowfit, the first all-female fitness center in the country.
Nejda Nejm is the brainchild behind Glowfit, and she also happens to be the wife of one of the Gloworks founders.
One of the reasons she felt empowered to start the fitness center was the new laws which allowed girls in Saudi schools to finally be allowed to participate in sports and exercise.
“I think it’s a big deal because this is a way of acknowledging publicly that women need to get the same treatment or care that males do,” she told NPR.
The news source reports that obesity is sky rocketing in the Kingdom and with this brings increased health risks for women and children who are excluded from being allowed to exercise as a form of prevention.
One of the Glowfit trainers believes this fitness center is helping to send a powerful message.
“It is a huge dramatic change. And it’s beautiful. It’s just beautiful to watch the change in Saudi,” said Nouf al-Musehel to NPR.
As expected religious conservatives frown upon changes like this as they believe exercising and sport is a “Western” influence and can lead to prostitution. No, that’s not a joke!
In 2014 the late King Abdullah made a landmark decision to allow women to be on the Shura Council. One of those women, Hoda al-Helaissi, says given how long it took for this breakthrough to happen and how much opposition they faced to get there, a few conservative frowns are not going to stop progress in other areas.
“It’s like us, when we first went into the council. You think it wasn’t done with a lot of opposition. That first year was very difficult, very difficult,” she said. “You got hate mail on your private mail. Twitter was talking about it. Everywhere. But society got used to it.”
In fact it was the presence of the women on the Shura Council that pushed for girls in school to be allowed to participate in sports. Hoda isn’t deterred by the attitudes who are against this movement, because she believes once the men see how it benefits their daughters health-wise, they will understand.
“What is the saying, ‘A healthy mind for a healthy body.’ It’s a necessary thing,” she said.
While women still have a long way to go in terms of reaching equality in Saudi Arabia, change starts with small steps, multiplied and amplified. We hope sharing empowering stories like this will enable more of our readers to understand that the fight for gender equality is very real and necessary.