Women students seek equal access to physical activity time in schools
Ashraf Al-Muraqab (author), Photos courtesy of Rabia Al-Adawiyya School (author)
Some women students asserted they do not have even one period dedicated to sports in their weekly schedule.
Elham Al-Ariqi, a secondary school student, said she used to enjoy sports, but she cannot play at school due to a lack of school-sponsored athletic activities and also a lack of playgrounds for games such as soccer or basketball.
Moreover, the young girl is more concerned about a society that doesn’t endorse women’s participation in physical education.
Similar to many schools in Yemen, the Al-Ariqi’s school's administration claims sports for girls are not important because it distracts them from their studies.
Although not all of Al-Ariqi's friends are bothered by this, she says a lot of them share her disappointment in the school's attitude.
Sabah Al-Hamadi, a teacher in Al-Thawra Compound School, recognizes the obstacles girls such as Al-Ariqi face. She blames an overarching societal belief that women should maintain a traditional role.
“One of the problems we face is when some families prevent their daughters from playing [sports] under the pretext that they only come to school to study and then return to the home,” the teacher said.
Al-Hamadi is a proponent of adding physical education to the curriculum in schools because she recognizes its need to maintain a healthy student body. She knows in order for this to happen, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Sport and Youth need to pay more attention to encouraging women’s sports in schools.
Another teacher, Nashwan Hael, has a slightly more pragmatic attitude toward the issue. He said there are more fundamental problems to be addressed before athletics.
“First, we ought to encourage people to send their daughters to school because some families prevent their daughters from going to school, considering it shameful,” he said. “And, after that, we can persuade them to allow their daughters to play sports.”
Some say traditional thinking in the limited role of women athletics is actually not supported by Muslim teachings.
Muslims in ancient times urged the importance of sport exercises, Muna Al-Bahri, a girl at Khawla School, said.
She cited Umar Bin Al-Khatab's, a prophet’s companion and a caliphate, words, “Teach your daughters and sons swimming, shooting and horse riding.”
However, Yemen does have many schools with playgrounds for female students to participate in all kinds of sporting activities, but they, too, have a long way to come.
Fatima Al-Hosam, the principal of the Al-Thawra Compound School, proudly reported that female students at her school have access to basketball and tennis games, but the events are in their elementary state due to a lack of professional coaches.
The principal said physical fitness activities continue to grow with offerings such as summer camps, but they still lack the necessary support and consideration they deserve to advance athletics in her school.
“Awareness of the importance of sports is absent among female students,” she said. “We [still] suffer from a deficiency of sport facilities in the school, and we also lack a closed sport hall that would enable female students to play freely.”
Al-Hosam also wants the Education Ministry to look into the issue of the school's narrow yard and other essentials needed to boost school athletics.
“Our hope is to have a specialized sport staff,” she said. “This can help us start taking the right steps and motivate the girls to take part locally and internationally.”
Nuha Al-Ahmadi, the deputy principal at Al-Amal School, said his school faces the same problems as Al-Hosam's–limited facilities and no specialized staff.
“When we own such things, we would be able to build heroes as other countries do. Sometimes, we notice the potential, but how do we help them succeed?” he asked.
Adel Al-Shuja’a, the deputy manager of general administration of school activities at the Ministry of Education, said there is an obvious slump in schools.
“Currently, we at the ministry launch huge efforts with regard to school sports, making it a huge priority in curriculum,” he said. “There are real obstacles facing school sports, in particular at the girls’ schools. Among the problems is the shortage of specialized sports staff. We have a plan that aims to consolidate the skills and abilities of the educational staff and activate the capabilities of the staff working in the field of school sports.”