Saudi Arabian girls will be allowed to play sports in private schools for the first time, according to a decision announced yesterday, the latest in a series of incremental changes aimed at slowly increasing women's rights in the ultraconservative kingdom. Saudi Arabia's official press agency, SPA, reported that private girls' schools are now allowed to hold sports activities in accordance with the rules of Shariah, or Islamic law. Students must adhere to "decent dress" codes and Saudi women teachers will be given priority in supervising the activities, according to the Education Ministry's requirements.
The decision makes sports once again a stage for the push to improve women's rights, nearly a year after two Saudi female athletes made an unprecedented appearance at the Olympics. "It's about time," said Aziza Youssef, a professor at King Saud University. "Everything is being held back in Saudi Arabia as far as women's rights." The government had previously quietly tolerated physical education in some private schools, but there is no set curriculum. (Read more sports stories.)