By Tariq A. Al-Maeena
Two news items, not necessarily unrelated to each other, passed by me this week giving me some cause to pause and ponder.
In the first instance, a letter from a professor at Al-Yamamah Women’s College spoke of a football match between themselves and another school, while the other was a news item carried by this newspaper a couple of days ago.
The item covered the proposal by Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh, the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, for the establishment of women-only hospitals. This was suggested during a symposium in Riyadh titled “Applying religion in medical issues.”
The grand mufti justified his proposal by defining the mixing of sexes at hospitals as a “disaster” that outrages the modesty of Muslim societies. He continued by emphasizing that medical treatments should be applied by medical professionals of the same gender as the patient, except in emergencies.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Health added that the ministry was considering the establishment of such hospitals, but that the move was not prompted by the grand mufti’s call.
Speaking to the press, Dr. Khaled Marghalani of the Health Ministry stated: “The ministry has been considering women-only hospitals for a long time. Such hospitals would be for specialties related to women, such as gynecology and obstetrics, but would have male staff. However, women employees will have preference.”
Now going back to the letter from the college professor, it goes as follows:
“Dear Mr. Al-Maeena,
Please consider publishing something about the girls football match between PMU and Al-Yamamah last weekend. Many of my students were players in the game, and I feel they all need recognition and support for breaking stereotypes about women playing sports in Saudi Arabia. If liberal people and the liberal press do not support them — who will?
History was made on Jan. 22, 2008, when the first-ever women’s football match in Saudi Arabia was held in Dammam between Prince Muhammad ibn Fahd University team and the Al-Yamamah Women’s College team, who hail from Riyadh. The team members fought against social expectations that women must be lady-like and demure at all times, to participate in the game out of sheer love and respect for the sport. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for all the players, in particular the Al-Yamamah students, many of whom I have had the pleasure of having in class.
While PMU officially won the game, in a penalty shootout after the game ended 2-2, I consider this an achievement for all the girls who played that day. This is the first time such a game has played out in Saudi Arabia, but thanks to these brave students, it won’t be the last.
All of Saudi Arabia, especially Saudi women, should be congratulating these girls for taking part in this groundbreaking event. Even if they don’t play, or want to play football themselves, it has opened the door for other girls to be more involved in sports, competition and their community as a whole. These girls have shown us what it means to stand up for something you believe in. Maybe now the rest will follow.”
While I applaud these girls and their organizers for staging this event, I am also hesitant to go overboard with my show of enthusiasm. What if one of my daughters was in the team? Would I not have been denied the right to watch her play and cheer her on? What social customs deprive a father of the chance to involve himself in events related to his daughters?
And in the case of women-only hospitals, what if my wife or a female relative had been a patient at such a facility? Would I have to wait till they are completely recovered and discharged before I could get to see them?
It just doesn’t make sense that we continue to conjure up ideas to make ours such a “special society”, and with such unique “traditions”. Or maybe I’m just living on the wrong planet.
-The writer is a Saudi socio/political columnist who resides in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.