It started with Saudi Twitter user Sultan Al Hilali, who posted a hash tag that translates as âProstitutes of the Olympics.â Some tweeted in support of the vile phrase, but supporters of Saudi Arabiaâs first two female Olympians flocked to the rescue, drowning out their ignorant and misogynistic words of hatred.
Itâs no secret that it hasnât been smooth sailing for Wojdan Shaherkani (Judo) and Sarah Attar (athletics), female athletes from a country where theyÂ jail women for getting behind the wheel of a car.
According to a Global Voices Online, the two will face âconditionsâ throughout their time at the London Games to âappease the clericsâ. They are forbidden from taking part âin mixed gamesâ and must âdress up conservatively,â among other things.
In addition, their inclusion in the games came only after mounting pressure from advocacy groups to ban Saudi Arabia from the Olympics altogether for discriminating against female athletes.
But the hoopla comes as no surprise to human rights advocates. The Human Rights Watchâs 2012 Report found that women and girls in Saudi Arabia are faced with significant obstacles. For instance, adult women must still obtain permission from male guardians simply to travel or work.
And becoming an athlete can be a near-impossible feat. Huffington Post writer Ahmed Shihab-Eldin notes that âmillions of Saudi women and girls are effectively banned from practicing sports inside the Kingdom.â
âIt is one thing to segment your society and prevent gender-mixing, but to prevent women from exercising and participating in team sports in 2012 and to justify it with the importance of adhering to Sharia law (obtaining a male family member's approval and dressing modestly) is insulting to women, Islam and the Olympics,â Shihab-Eldin continued.
Unfortunately, any step toward equality for women is usually met with outrage from proponents of patriarchy (just take a look at this nationâs war on women). But it is heartening to witness the public outrage over this belittling hash tag and subsequent discussion of womenâs rights.
Look out for Attar, who will participate in the 800 meter race on August 8. Shaherkani is slated for her first round on August 3.
Though we have a long way to go until equality for women in Saudi Arabia is a reality, these athletesâ resilience and bravery should be an inspiration to us all.
Image courtesy of AFP.