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 now another setback has occurred for women who live in Asir Province. There is a popular street in Asir where women like to walk or job (properly covered and attired) between the evening prayers. However the Haia (Muttawa) has now banned the street declaring it is unsafe for women. The Haia stated their reasons for banning is that the street is poorly lit and in an area of town known for drug addicts and other crime. Fitness enthusiast R.S Al-Shahri contradicts the Haia claim and says that the street is well-lit and safe. The name of the street was not identified in the Arab news article.
In Riyadh along King Abdullah Road, there is a stretch of the street which is referred to as “Pregnant Ladies Street” since it is also a popular area where many women (and families) like to walk after the evening prayers. By then the sun has gone down and the day is more comfortable and suitable for walking. Yet when compared to the population of Riyadh, it is only a very small representation that walks.
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.
While the men may work out, women are expected to either gather in each others homes where they enjoy coffee, tea and sweets or get together and stroll leisurely at the malls while they shop. I’ve not observed an emphasis on encouraging women to also have regular fitness programs. Keeping fit is not about vanity, it is mandatory to keep one healthy and strong.
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