JEDDAH, 17 March 2008 — After a year and a half of struggling, Hessah Al-Oun, head of the Women’s Council in the Al-Rawdah district of Jeddah, with a member of the Men’s Council of the district, has succeeded in securing a permit to open the first park in the neighborhood with separate sections for men and women.
“Sports and exercise are essential in our lives and for this there has to be a place. I’ve been working hard to open this park,” said Al-Oun, adding, “I promise it will make a big difference in people’s lives.”
Al-Oun, who is an honorary member of Makkah’s Al-Wehda Club and Jeddah’s Al-Ahli Club and a soccer columnist for over 25 years, said, “It’s simply our right, but we have to work hard for it.”
Due to modern lifestyles, it is difficult for families to get together, she said, adding that having a park will help strengthen relations between fathers and sons, and between mothers and daughters.
Al-Oun said that her neighbors would now have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with each other like in bygone days.
The proposed park will include a library, summer activities and training courses, and people in the area will participate in developing it.
Al-Oun said the park is important for women, who in general are unable to participate in sports. Women will be able to walk freely and safely once the park becomes a reality, she said, adding that getting women involved in sports has to be done in a step-by-step fashion.
“Young women have energy and they need to let it out the right way instead of directing their efforts toward something negative. Instead of going out to malls and coffee shops to waste their time, why don’t schools allow students to engage in sports,” she said.
The Al-Yamamah College in Riyadh and Prince Muhammad ibn Fahd University in the Eastern Province have taken the initiative to allow women to participate in sports and have held women’s football matches.
However, King Saud University was reportedly forced to cancel a women’s marathon recently following an objection by the Kingdom’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh. “I really wish other government schools and universities would support sports; this would certainly benefit students,” said Al-Oun.
She believes that sports not only make women healthy but also increase their knowledge. “Sports do not mean football. People have this wrong idea that if we introduce our daughters to sports then they’ll be participating in aggressive types of sport,” she said.
“They could find a suitable genre, something that is less aggressive — such as gymnastics or swimming,” she said.
“There is nothing in religion to prevent women from participating in sports. In fact, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is reported to have raced with his wife Ayesha (may Go be pleased with her),” said Al-Oun.
She said the first GCC Women’s Olympics was held in Kuwait earlier this month, thanks to Sheikha Naema Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, chairperson of the GCC Women Sports Organizing Committee.
“It is a shame that such an event was not celebrated here,” said Al-Oun, adding that women need to in the least know about their peers in Gulf countries and their achievements.