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Saudi Arabia: Streets closed to women joggers

Categories: Middle East & North Africa, Saudi Arabia, Education, Governance, Health, Law, Women & Gender

A street in Asir Province, Saudi Arabia, where many women liked to exercise has recently been shut off to female joggers, as it has been deemed unsafe by the Haia (Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice).

The Haia stated the reasons for its closure were that it is poorly lit and in an area known for its crime: therefore it was being shut to protect women. However, many bloggers disagree with this statement, stating there are other reasons behind its closure.

A commenter on the Arab News [1] on this matter, Ahmed Faraz Rao, pleads:

If the place is unsafe for women then please make it safe for women instead of banning women from jogging.
If some place is unsafe for people then should people leave that place or should police come into action to make it safe?

Saudi Jeans, who points out joggers in the area have stated the street is both well-lit and safe, likens the decision to one of a futuristic “pre-crime” unit [2]:

You can say that this decision by Haia is part preemptive strike, part blaming the victim. Instead of watching these so-called unsafe areas and protect the women by arresting people who attempt to harass them, they go and prevent women from exercising there…Now of course this kind of behavior is not at all new or surprising on the part of Haia…

Indeed, American Bedu points out [3] the decision is not one without precedent:

There has already been intervention by government ministries towards women and exercise. Last year many fitness facilities for women were declared illegal if they were not approved by government ministries. Instead of being viewed as a business, because these were places where women exercised rather than shop or get their hair done, government approval was required.

And she goes on to mention the difficulties in maintaining fitness for women in Saudi Arabia:

Many of the Saudi schools, primary and secondary, do not have physical fitness for children. Women are not encouraged to exercise. Unless a woman is very motivated and disciplined to work out within her home, not every woman can easily arrange her schedule to go out and walk or organize transport and pay the fees to join a private fitness center. On the other hand, men can go out in modest shorts and jog as they wish. Fitness centers for men are in abundance. One can see the male fitness centers from the streets and see the men working out through the large plate glass windows which are typical fronts for these facilities.

American Bedu also points out that keeping fit is not about vanity, but about health. This point is reinforced in the comments to this piece [2] where commentor Abu Sinan points out:

This is one of the reasons there is a big problem amongst Saudi women with diabetes. No exercise, unhealthy food, it all contributes.

Meanwhile, Qusay commenting on Saudi Jean‘s blog has a more cynical approach to the matter:

I would like to bet that someone is selling home exercise equipment and trying to ban all activities outside so he would sell more