The trek up Mount Everest seems like a baby step compared to trying to change laws that keep Saudi Arabian women from playing sports. For Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi woman to successfully climb the world’s tallest mountain, trying to change the laws for Saudi Arabian women is just another obstacle that she plans to overcome.
According to CNN, 27-year-old Moharrak was always encouraged by her parents to aim for the stars. Though she grew up in a country that does not dedicate many efforts to the physical fitness of women, Moharrak decided she needed to defy the odds and climb Mount Everest.
Although she had successfully climbed eight other mountains since 2011, many people still doubted her ability to survive Everest. Not just because it is a dangerous hike, but because she is a woman.
“One person actually said ‘What is Barbie doing on the mountain?’ and I said: ‘Don’t let the Disney princess hair fool you.’”
Proving these doubtful people wrong by surviving Everest was not enough. There was more Moharrak could do for her country, and that included advocating for women to be able to play sports in Saudi Arabia.
According to CNN, Saudi Arabia is “an ultra-orthodox country which only officially allowed sports to be played in private girls’ schools in May.” In Saudi Arabia, women are typically prevented from playing sports because “Sports are widely seen as a diversion that women don’t need to partake in, and the immodesty of some uniforms presents a challenge,” according to NBC 2.
Moharrak joined forces with Human Rights Watch to voice her specific reason for women to play sports. According to NBC 2, “Her approach is health: Moharrak stresses that lack of exercise is correlated with obesity, depression, diabetes, brittle bones, vitamin deficiency and other problems.”
Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia stops providing physical education classes to girls’ schools before middle school, whereas boys can continue to exercise in their schools beyond a certain grade. Moharrak stresses that physical education is necessary not only for the preservation of health, but for the industries of Saudi Arabia.
Fitness centers and athletic apparel companies miss out on many opportunities with women in this country, and the sports infrastructure may become stagnant without the inclusion of women, according to NBC 2. In light of the sports infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, the country has struggled to host the Olympics in the past due to these measures that deny women from exercising in public.
According to NBC 2, “Human Rights Watch hopes to pressure repressive countries to go further toward gender equality – especially countries that want to host the Olympics or the World Cup one day, and need to make a good impression.”
So far, Moharrak’s efforts to introduce physical exercise to women in Saudi Arabia have not gone unnoticed. According to CNN, she has attracted the attention of many young girls who have become inspired for their futures thanks to the efforts and achievements of Moharrak. For Moharrak, inspiring young women to become immersed in a physically healthy lifestyle is just the first step to tackling her next big obstacle.
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