Sport: a challenge for muslim women

The woman figure in the muslim world is often linked to a violation of her rights or to the gender state, but rarely we consider her role in the sporting field. Sociologically, sport is a really sexist field which makes a recognition towards women difficult, also in the world areas in which women have the same rights as men. Not everyone has the possibility to do sport in freedom and security. Surely this possibility is denied to muslim women. The women exclusion from sport is mainly caused by customs and traditions regards to patriarchal system, which has characterized and continues to characterize numerous regions of muslim world. In general, sport is considered a main element for female empowerment; in fact, the social and moral progress of a country is linked not only to male gender, but also to woman contribution to social, political and cultural life.

In muslim culture some behaviours  linked to sport, like excessively showing the body, being photographed or filmed by social media, are not accepted and mean that there will be conflicts especially during international sporting events.

Over the years it is happened a huge change and, in the same time, adaptation mainly in international competitions.

London Olympic Games in 2012 represented a big turning point because two Saudi athletes took part in games, Sarah Attar and Wojdan Shaherkani.

Sarah Attar is the first Saudi woman to tread an Olympic track. Sarah is a Saudi marathoner and a long distance runner. During the race she got on the track for the 800m race completely covered from top to bottom: white hijab covered her head except the face, a long-sleeved shirt and a black tights. The athlete finished her heat half minute after the penultimate competitor, but getting on the track was a great victory and satisfaction for her. Sarah Attar want to launch a message to every woman of Saudi Arabia: engaging in sports and dreaming to become athletes too, like her. She has shown to be able to become an athlete at higher levels reconciling sport with current Islamic tradition in the Saudi monarchy, where women cannot travel abroad o work without getting permission from a man of the family.

Wojdan Shakerkani is a judoka and she took part for the first time in 2012 Olympic Games. The judoka was defeat on the tatami, but her participiation to the race was a great triumph for herself and Saudi society. Her participation to London 2012 had been questioned several times, because International Judo Federation did not want her to race with her hijab. However, at the end they have reached a compromise and a special hijab has been drown with a velcro fastening to allow to take part to it and avoid choking hazards.

An other important event was the international competition in Rio de Janiero 2016 Olympics. An icon to Islamic women of these Olympics was the Emirati Amna Al Haddad, qualified in female weight lifting. During Olympics other athletes become established: the 18 years old Kimia Alizadeh, the first Iranian to win an olympic medal in taekwondo in Rio, the Egyptian couple in beach volley, who on the beach of Copacabana have challenged breathtaking biking of the competitors with their typical hijab, and the Saudi Kariman Abuljadayel, who has been presented to Brazilian Games despite of her Government turns his nose up at it and she has crowned her dream to run the 100m.

The participation to international sporting events allowes to muslim athletes to break down preconceptions and prejudice of the Islamic society showing brave, determination, talent and dedication, not only to conquer a medal but especially to represent a whole category and fight with it for new future opportunities.

In 2018 in Saudi Arabia female gyms were legalized. Women feel the need to cure her body and learn to defend themselves respecting islamic values. In the meantime gyms attend by either men and women are prohibited because Islam forbids any attendance between not related men and women. 

In the last years we are living all these changes which have created a real revolution for Islamic women, despite of the conservative regime of the muslim religion. The challenge for these last is to defend them sportive freedom and have more and more brave to affirm their rights.

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  • L'Autore

    Valeriana Savino


    Valeriana Savino è una giovane studentessa di 24 anni. Nata e cresciuta in Puglia. È laureata in Scienze Politiche, Relazioni Internazionali e Studi Europei presso l’Università degli Studi di Bari “Aldo Moro”.

    Attualmente frequenta il corso di laurea magistrale in Scienze delle Amministrazioni. Ritiene fortemente che il primo cambiamento necessario per il prossimo futuro sia dare un contributo attivo alla gestione dei servizi pubblici e privati.

    Ha collaborato per tre anni con l’associazione “Giovani nel Mondo” alla promozione del festival delle carriere internazionali. La promozione consisteva nell’organizzare incontri sia in italiano sia in inglese con gli studenti, conferenze con ospiti nazionali e internazionali e fornire informazioni sul festival.

    Da agosto 2019 collabora con l’associazione “Mondo Internazionale”. È autrice nell’area tematica “Diritti Umani” ed “Europa” nell’ambito di Mondo Internazionale Academy. Da novembre 2020 collabora come Policy Analist nell’analisi, ricerca e redazione di politiche pubbliche portate avanti da Mondo Internazionale Hub all’interno di MIPP, l’Incubatore di Politiche Pubbliche.

    È appassionata di diritti umani e di questioni relative all’Europa e non solo. Ascolta podcast per essere sempre aggiornata sul mondo attuale e nel tempo libero leggo libri e guardo serie TV.

    Ama viaggiare, scoprire nuove realtà e mettersi sempre alla prova.


    Valeriana Savino is a young 24 years old. She is born and raised in Puglia. She has a BA in Political Science, International Relations and European Studies at the University of Bari "Aldo Moro".

    She is currently attending the master's degree in Administration Sciences. She strongly believes that the first necessary change for the near future is to make an active contribution to the management of public and private services.

    She collaborated for three years with the "Giovani nel Mondo" association to promote the internationale career festival. The promotion consisted of organizing meetings both in Italian and in English with students, conferences with national and international guests and providing information on the festival.

    Since August 2019 she has been collaborating with the "Mondo Internazionale" association. She is an author in the thematic area "Human Rights" and "Europe" within the Mondo Internazionale Academy. Since November 2020 she has been collaborating as a Policy Analist in the analysis, research and drafting of public policies carried out by Mondo Internazionale Hub within MIPP, the Public Policy Incubator.

    She is passionate about human rights and issues relating to Europe and beyond. She listens to podcasts to keep up to date on the current world and in free time she reads books and watch TV series.

    She loves to travel, discover new realities and always test herself.

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