It started with Saudi Twitter user Sultan Al Hilali, who posted a hash tag that translates as “Prostitutes of the Olympics.” Some tweeted in support of the vile phrase, but supporters of Saudi Arabia’s first two female Olympians flocked to the rescue, drowning out their ignorant and misogynistic words of hatred.
It’s no secret that it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Wojdan Shaherkani (Judo) and Sarah Attar (athletics), female athletes from a country where they jail women for getting behind the wheel of a car.
According to a Global Voices Online, the two will face “conditions” throughout their time at the London Games to “appease the clerics”. They are forbidden from taking part “in mixed games” and must “dress up conservatively,” among other things.
In addition, their inclusion in the games came only after mounting pressure from advocacy groups to ban Saudi Arabia from the Olympics altogether for discriminating against female athletes.
But the hoopla comes as no surprise to human rights advocates. The Human Rights Watch’s 2012 Report found that women and girls in Saudi Arabia are faced with significant obstacles. For instance, adult women must still obtain permission from male guardians simply to travel or work.
And becoming an athlete can be a near-impossible feat. Huffington Post writer Ahmed Shihab-Eldin notes that “millions of Saudi women and girls are effectively banned from practicing sports inside the Kingdom.”
“It is one thing to segment your society and prevent gender-mixing, but to prevent women from exercising and participating in team sports in 2012 and to justify it with the importance of adhering to Sharia law (obtaining a male family member's approval and dressing modestly) is insulting to women, Islam and the Olympics,” Shihab-Eldin continued.
Unfortunately, any step toward equality for women is usually met with outrage from proponents of patriarchy (just take a look at this nation’s war on women). But it is heartening to witness the public outrage over this belittling hash tag and subsequent discussion of women’s rights.
Look out for Attar, who will participate in the 800 meter race on August 8. Shaherkani is slated for her first round on August 3.
Though we have a long way to go until equality for women in Saudi Arabia is a reality, these athletes’ resilience and bravery should be an inspiration to us all.
Image courtesy of AFP.