For many of us, gym class wasn't exactly the highlight of the school day and we wouldn't have been too upset if it was cut from the curriculum. But as someone who fell into that category, I would have been infuriated if I was told that physical education was off limits because of my gender.
For girls in Saudi Arabia, that's been the case until now. When the new school year begins, they'll be able to take physical education classes for the first time ever, The New York Times reports.
The Saudi education ministry announced the news on Tuesday in a statement that noted the programs offered will be “in accordance with the rules of sharia" law. According to the Times, the inclusion of girls in P.E. is part of a government campaign called Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to "make life more enjoyable for citizens."
The Human Rights Watch noted in its 2016 report that Saudi Arabia's promises to improve girl's and women's rights in the country have been empty in the past. "Saudi Arabia’s discriminatory male guardianship system remains intact despite government pledges to abolish it," the report reads. But we're hopeful that this small step is a positive sign they're moving in the right direction.
Saudi scholar Hatoon al-Fassi told the Times that the introduction of physical education classes is huge because it provides girls with the "opportunity to build their bodies, to care for their bodies and to respect their bodies.”
Although this development is promising, girls and women remain oppressed in myriad ways. Women aren't permitted to drive, travel abroad, or undergo certain medical procedures without the permission of a male guardian. All schools in the country are separated by gender.