Sports for Saudi women – we’re on the right track
One of the most interesting debates in our media involves the high rate of obesity among Saudi women
Today the country is buzzing with public debates and there is a sense of urgency about the need to address social and economic problems. Talk shows and social media debates are becoming more popular nationwide creating a healthy environment. The media and the cyber community are certainly energized and are beginning to play a bigger role in addressing political, economic and social issues in Saudi society.
One of the most interesting debates in our media involves the high rate of obesity among Saudi women and the lack of adequate remedies to address the epidemic. Unhealthy diet and physical inactivity have had a negative effect on women’s health and are the main causes of obesity and many chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis, among others.
Daoud al-Sherian, a prominent talk show host, recently invited four women involved in sports and the well-being of women to discuss the reasons behind the problem and to come up with appropriate solutions. The one-hour show involved a new breed of young women who shared their experiences in promoting sports for women in the Kingdom, a subject that was taboo for a very long time. The program also included many statements from the public criticizing the lack of affordable sports facilities and public parks to help women exercise and fight obesity and related diseases.
One of the participants was Lina Almaeena, founder and team captain of Jeddah United a sports academy in Jeddah. She talked about her experience with depression and how she was cured through exercise and sports and since then how her sports academy has been helping many women lead a more healthy lifestyle and stay fit and happy. She explained that exercise produces hormones of happiness and boosts confidence and helps women physically, mentally and socially.
Lina argued that group sports are more effective forms of exercise because they are more vigorous and entertaining at the same time. She stressed that there is a lack of public parks and sports facilities for women in our country and that the government should do more to support the sports culture in Saudi Arabia. Exercise should be a way of life and society should be more involved in promoting sports for women.
Aljohara Falata, a lawyer and coach at Riyadh United sports academy, spoke about the growing interest among girls for soccer and the lack of adequate playing fields or sports facilities for girls in schools. She agreed that the lack of public parks or playgrounds for girls deprives them of the opportunity to train or enjoy a game.
Zain Abu Sakhr, a physical trainer, spoke about the importance of exercise for every woman’s well-being. She said that there is no substitute for workouts and weight training but that, unfortunately, many Saudi women lack the awareness and are reluctant to go through vigorous exercise that can help them lose weight or stay in shape. Many women believe that walking is enough exercise; however, they do not realize that if it is not brisk walking or running it is not as effective, and as a result we have a high prevalence of obesity among women.
Dealing with harassment
Meanwhile, many Saudi women nowadays are enjoying the walkways that have been built in different districts; however, the majority complain that they do not feel comfortable walking in their abayas and having to deal with harassment.
Hana Al-Alwani, a sports journalist, said that mainstream media is not aware of the individual efforts being made to promote sports for women in the Kingdom, and that, therefore, there is very little media coverage for such initiatives. She said the Presidency of Youth Welfare needs to issue legal permits for sports centers and apply effective strategies and adequate funds to facilitate exercise for women.
The four experts discussed the challenges and solutions and urged the government to provide properly trained teachers and coaches and stressed that parents should be involved in providing a healthy lifestyle for their children.
They all agreed that the establishment of sports clubs for women is a valid demand that would certainly provide a service that is long overdue.
Indeed, involving women who are experts in sports and using their input to develop policies and regulations to promote sports for women would be a step in the right direction.
This move should be followed by the elimination of other rigid rules that are imposed unnecessarily and the encouragement of more flexible attitudes that can allow exercise and entertainment in people’s lives.
A more effective national policy to address social and economic detriments to health and an awareness campaign to enhance a healthy lifestyle are the need of the hour.
This article was first published on May 24, 2015.
Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”