London 2012: Gender Disparity Still Present For Some

By Allison Tilt

After Publication Note: As of this morning, the IOC has stated that two Saudi women will compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics. This is a huge step forward for women’s rights in the Middle East.


In honor of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, starting on July 27th, WIIS decided to take a look at female athletes.  More specifically, the ones that are barred from participation.

For a bit of background, the modern Olympic Games began in 1896.  Although clearly a source for national pride, the games are also intended to promote peace, equality and international development. Gender discrimination has long been an issue, but this year holds promise- for the first time women will compete in all events, an accomplishment compounded by a statistic that 42{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} of 2008 Olympic participants were women.

The Olympics are big news.  But between stories of various qualifying athletes and the large Olympics rings mowed into the grass of a London park, is the story of the women who are still barred from representing their nations on the world’s sporting arena.

This story first caught my attention when Saudi Arabia announced Equestrian Dalma Rushdi Malhas was no longer able to compete.  She was their only female athlete. Speculation began if the Gulf kingdom would attempt to replace Malhas in order to avoid discriminatory sanctions, similar to those faced by South Africa during Apartheid. As of when this post was written, Saudi Arabia was sending an all-male team.

Although the Saudi Embassy in London said qualifying women may compete in the games, no female team is set to compete in three weeks, according to an AP report. This stands in sharp contrast to the news that Brunei and Qatar are sending female athletes.

Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Brunei were historically the three countries never to send female athletes to the Olympics. Qatar is sending three women to this year’s Games, a small but in no way insignificant victory for women’s rights activists. Brunei’s only female athlete was given the honor of carrying their flag during the Opening Ceremony.

I’ll be the first to suggest I know very little of the motivations for the Kingdom’s holdout.  It may be as simple as no women qualified.  Yet one thing is sure: this realization has created a flurry of related stories of the plight of Saudi women to remain active and involved.

An interesting twist on women’s rights, the Saudi kingdom’s standing as the only country with an all-male Olympic delegation has put Saudi Arabian women at the forefront of the modern women’s movement.

It seems the fight for women to participate in the Olympics is just the newest dimension of what many Middle Eastern women face today.

Readers: Have you been following the Olympic hype? If so, what do you think about: 1. Saudi Arabia 2. Any other great female athletes