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Saudi Arabia: Streets closed to women joggers

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 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:

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 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 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

  • http://sometimesjean.blogspot.com/2009/12/running-my-new-found-interest.html Jean

    I hope the ladies have other places to jog besides the mentioned street/area in the article. We should all have the rights to live in a safe environment and the rights to pursue simple pleasures such as jogging in life.

  • Doug Swallow

    I guess that these exercising women are clothed to the degree that the religious authorities think appropriate to being seen out side. Remember this incident in Mecca that shows they are too busy worrying about their women driving or going out without their stupid black veiled costumes on. I’m sure you remember in March of 2002 when 15 school girls died during a fire Mecca:

    One witness said he saw three policemen “beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya”.

    This ridiculous dress code has to do with the Saudi men wanting the results of when they “discipline” their wives to not to be evident to others.

    Point is, seems like it would be hard to jog with all of these robes and veils on.

    • ur uncle (haia lover)

      “beating young girls to prevent them from leaving the school because they were not wearing the abaya”

      that souds so true. I believe u and ur so called I witness.
      they can jog anywhere they like wearing anything they like in any other street. and put in mind that haia is not the police they can’t fight crime they’re like volunteer civilians that remind people what’s right or wrong. but looks like u people have other bad intentions…

      • Doug Swallow

        Ur uncle: You sound like I just made this up. If you don’t want to believe it, and I can see why you wouldn’t want to, look it up for your self and then get back to the normal people here.

        “Saudi Arabia’s religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, according to Saudi newspapers.
        In a rare criticism of the kingdom’s powerful “mutaween” police, the Saudi media has accused them of hindering attempts to save 15 girls who died in the fire on Monday”.

        “Fifteen girls were killed as they stampeded to escape from the blazing building in the Muslim holy city. Saudi media and families of the victims have been angry over the deaths of the girls in the fire that gutted the school.
        The resulting public criticism of the religious police, or mutaween, is highly unusual”.

  • Jennifer Mc Cleary

    This is ludicrous. Instead of stopping crime or fixing a bad neighborhood, the Haia is taking the easy route by banning women from excersizing. Hey, why not kill two birds with one stone, right? Gloss over a possibly dangerous neighborhood and further their efforts to subjugate women. Great job Haia! You’ve taken civil rights in your country to a new (or old) low. Congrats. Women need to come together and fight for their rights, because no one else is going to fight for them.

    • ur uncle (haia lover)

      women should come together and fight people like you. what’s in it to you? they can jog anywhere they like wearing anything they like in any other street. and put in mind that haia is not the police they can’t fight crime they’re like volunteer civilians that remind people what’s right or wrong. but looks like u people have other bad intentions…

  • Peter D

    And the USA has propped up this Saudi regime for decades, buying its oil, welcoming truckloads of investment capital from Saudi Arabia every year, and rejoicing in the support the Saudi oil trade provides towards strengthening the US dollar.

    With friends like these, the women of Saudi Arabia don’t need enemies.

  • Pingback: Alianzas » Ni correr ni conducir: mujeres en Arabia Saudí

  • Jennifer Mc Cleary

    Look, I’m not saying Americans need to come in and convince women to start a movement. That is entirely up to Saudi women. I do not agree with Americans sticking their nose in places they don’t belong. Do I feel women are subjugated? Yes. Am I going to do anything about it? No. Why? It’s none of my business. Case in point, the “Boob Quake” protest… Absolutely ridiculous on American’s part… and embarrassing.
    However, sites like these give people an opportunity to state their point of view, whether you like it or not. Take it or leave it. Women are treated like naive little girls in some Middle Eastern countries. It’s as if men feel they can’t defend themselves, or their too feeble or uneducated to chime in and speak up for themselves. I’d like to see a Saudi Woman’s opinion on here. Would they feel the same way you guys do? Because honestly, I’m not taking your word for it… You’re men. How does this affect you? It doesn’t.
    Further, I have to laugh every time someone diverts an argument to discussions to oil hungry Americans. How does this fit into the discussion? It’s irrelevant. I thought we were talking about women’s rights. By the way, I don’t own a car and I don’t drive. I haven’t since 1998, so I’m not driven by an insatiable urge to suck oil from Saudis. In any event, they’re selling it to us. If they don’t like us or our money, then DON’T TAKE OUR MONEY! Further, the U.S. dollar isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. The Saudis are by no means strengthening our dollar. Do not be so foolish as to give them that much credit in our economy. Let’s get real here. But I digress.
    Women deserve better “champions” than men such as yourselves. They deserve rights, including the right to exercise when and where they please, wearing what ever they deem appropriate. They do not need men mandating their every action. They are big girls and can handle themselves, without male interference on what MEN deem appropriate. I’d like to hear the opinion’s of a Saudi woman because the answers I’m likely to receive from men are typical and predictable… such as your comments.

  • Doug Swallow

    Jennifer Mc Cleary: I agree with you. If you want to get a Saudi woman’s take on things in the kingdom read a book I recently finished, “Daughters of Arabia”, by Jean Sasson. It puts the issue into a very different perspective than what the one individual on here is doing by out right lying about what goes on.

    What goes on in the kingdom is directly influenced by the Wahhabi sect that follows the strict teaching of the prophet; therefore, taking the country back 1,400 years and they want to believe this is a “reformation”.

    Women, according to the Koran, are, in general, unclean creatures. After a Muslim has washed and prepared himself for prayer, he should not touch a woman. Therefore, “pious” Muslims never shake hands with women.
    “O you who believe! do not go near prayer until you have washed yourselves; and if you have touched women, and you cannot find water, betake yourselves to pure earth, then wipe your faces and your hands; surely Allah is Pardoning, Forgiving.” (Sura 4, verse 43)

    “Men are superior to women because Allah has made so. Therefore good women are obedient, and (as to) those (women) on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places and BEAT them; then if they obey you, do not seek a way against them; surely Allah is High, Great.” (Sura 4, verse 34)

    If this is seen as being an indictment against Islam, so be it. Remember that this is the country that called for a Muslim boycott of Switzerland because of their banning minarets but has no tolerance for any other religion but Islam within their boarders.

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