Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1893/31239
Appears in Collections:Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport eTheses
Title: Females and sport in Saudi Arabia: An analysis of the relationship between sport, region, education, gender, and religion
Author(s): Al Ruwaili, Mamdouh D
Supervisor(s): Zipp, Sarah
Ryde, Gemma
Keywords: Sport,
Gender
Religion
Saudi Arabia
Islam
Muslim
Health
Foucault
Butler
Issue Date: 19-Feb-2020
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Abstract Background: on a number of widely used international measures, Saudi Arabia ranks very low compared to other countries with regards to gender equality. For example, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, the Kingdom is only six places above the worst performing country in the world for gender equality (out of a total of 144 that were ranked). A key feature of this gender inequality is manifested in the domain of sport. Saudi Arabia has only very recently begun to allow sports centres for women and physical education for, initially, girls in private and, more recently (in 2017), in public education. Moreover, even when women and girls have access to opportunities to take part in sport in principle, in practice significant barriers often remain. For example, the agreement of male families or restrictive dress codes, as embodied in laws and social expectations. There is a clear need, therefore, to develop a better understanding of the possible causes of this state of affairs alongside potential policy responses. This need is exacerbated by a relative lack of literature which specifically addresses these issues. Aim: The aim of this thesis is to gain a better understanding of the inclusivity-relevant relationships between sport, gender, education, region, and religion. Moreover, based on that understanding, this thesis aims to make recommendations on how best to improve gender-inclusivity in sport in Saudi Arabia, in particular to advocate for any improvements to be led by an indigenous Islamic feminist movement. In order to gain the required understanding, the following four research questions will be asked. First, what are the dominant attitudes towards women’s participation in sport in Saudi Arabia? Second, what are the key social, cultural, and civic issues that affect women’s participation in sport in Saudi Arabia? Third, how do different interpretations of Islam influence attitudes towards women’s sport in Saudi Arabia? Fourth, how are the ideas about women’s participation in sport in Saudi Arabia changing? Methods: a mixed methods approach was employed. An exploratory survey was undertaken via a questionnaire which was distributed to 890 individuals (444 responded, 196 women and 248 men) in two locales: the relatively more urban locale of Dammam and the relatively more rural locale of Al Jouf. The questionnaire consisted of structured questions that required the participants to simply select either one or more of the options provided (depending on the question). There were five sections in the questionnaire and each one was designed to provide data relevant to aspects of the research questions. The questionnaire data was designed to produce descriptive statistics to help frame the study. I also conducted some basic relationship analysis of those descriptive statistics. Further, 24 interviews were conducted, 13 in Dammam, and 11 in Al Jouf. In addition, thousands of ‘tweets’ from the micro-blogging site Twitter were examined with a representative sample of 96 selected for discussion. A thematic analysis of both the interview and Twitter data was performed. Alongside this, I developed a theoretical framework that I call ‘pragmatic Islamic feminism’ which is partly inspired by the work of Judith Butler and Michel Foucault, particularly the latter’s analysis of power and the former’s anti-realist arguments about gender. The underlying philosophical approach I endorse is a pragmatist one in the sense that I decline to resolve the constructivist-positivist debate, or the realist versus anti-realist debate about gender, on pragmatic grounds in both cases. The theoretical framework is also inspired by the Islamic feminist movement which has recently begun to gain momentum in the Arab world. The movement combines feminist ideals with Islamic doctrine and a post-colonial geo-political outlook. Results: Generally, in the sample there is support for women to participate in sport and physical activity, most frequently on health grounds. This support was not explicitly constrained by male authority or Islamic teachings, although religiously-motivated reasoning was apparent in a proportion of the sample. In particular, sex segregation in sport and physical activity was strongly preferred, for a mixture of explicitly religious and social reasons. More specifically, across the data support for women to participate in sport and physical activity was relatively high across education levels, city of origin and gender. However, one restriction on this participation that a majority of respondents across all data-gathering methods agreed upon was that women’s participation in sport should be in accordance with the teachings of Islam, sex segregated, and occur in private settings. The segregation and privacy restrictions often appeared partly motivated, in both the responses to the questionnaire and in interviews, by concerns about women’s sexual virtue. Further, although I do identify some relationship between gender and participants’ attitudes towards women’s participation in sport, which one might expect, the relationship is perhaps less strong than might be predicted, and other relationships between education level or region appeared to be more significant. A key unexpected result from the questionnaire data was the relatively lower degree to which male authority was rated by respondents relative to the other options such as sex segregation and modesty and chastity, which were rated most and second most important respectively. Relatedly, Islamic teaching was rated lower than male authority by respondents in the questionnaire when they were asked to choose between possible barriers to women’s participation in sport, and Islamic teaching was not taken by most respondents to prohibit women’s participation in sport. Nevertheless, in the interview data, religiously-motivated reasoning about women’s participation in sport was frequently apparent. Recommendations: My key recommendation is that there should be a pragmatic approach towards improving gender-inclusivity in Saudi sport. In particular, I recommend that the project of women’s emancipation as a whole, which includes women’s participation in sport, has perhaps the greatest chance of success in Saudi Arabia and socio-politically similar places if it is pursued via an indigenous Islamic feminist movement relatively free from colonial relationships. I also propose approaches that both indigenous and non-indigenous allies of the feminist movement might take to best achieve its goals. Chief among those is what I call the ‘health argument’–which appeals to the Kingdom’s pre-existing significant commitments on improving the health of its female citizens, such as the Vision 2030 development goals, and the overwhelming evidence for the many significant positive mental and physical health outcomes that physical activity can bring. The role that sport can play in increasing physical activity is very significant, I highlight, opening the possibility of increasing gender-inclusivity in sport in the Kingdom by appealing to the health implications of doing so. Finally, I propose that further research should be undertaken to assess how effective the health argument might be across the Saudi population as a whole, and for a qualitative analysis of how Islamic feminism may best navigate the socio-cultural tensions between the desire for progress versus the desire to defend Arabic and Islamic norms in the Saudi populace.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/1893/31239



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