As a policy advisory council debates whether to allow physical education classes for girls in Saudi public schools, some hardline Islamic clerics are warning against the reform, with one saying sports instruction could lead to “infidelity and prostitution.”
“If we keep silent about the step of adding PE classes to girls’ schools then we are giving the Shoura Council a green light to continue the steps of Westernization and these steps will end in infidelity and prostitution,” Abdullah Al Dawood tweeted according to the Wall Street Journal.
Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council, which advises the government on policy, voted 92-18 on Tuesday to instruct the Education Ministry to study the possibility of starting to offer girls gym classes in state-run schools, the Wall Street Journal reported. This as long as the classes conform to Sharia rules of modest dress and gender segregation. There is currently a ban on sports instruction for public school girls, Reuters reported.
The Shoura Council last year permitted female students at private schools to participate in physical education lessons, as long as they wear “decent clothing” and are taught by female instructors, the Independent reported.
The kingdom for the first time included women on its Olympic team two years ago.
The conservative Islamic country bans women from driving and requires women to have a male guardian for various activities including traveling or opening a bank account.
Those who favor girls’ exercise classes also took to social media, “arguing that gym classes in public schools would make for healthier girls and women,” the Wall Street Journal noted.
Director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch Minky Worden told the Independent, “All of Saudi Arabia’s women and girls should be able to enjoy the social, educational, and health benefits of taking part in sports.”
“If the government can take down this barrier for private schools, it should give girls and women in publicly funded schools the same benefit,” she added.