Lina Al Maeena has advocated for women’s expanded access to Saudi Arabia’s athletic realm more than a decade.
On July 11, she reaped the fruits of her labor.
Saudi Arabia’s Education Ministry has announced that physical education classes in public schools will begin start being offered to women this fall. “It’s like your Title IX,” Al Maeena said, referring to the 1972 U.S. federal law prohibiting high schools and colleges across America from discriminating on the basis of gender in any activity, including sports.
Al Maeena’s determination traces to her childhood- with a passion that brimmed for sports and parents who encouraged the interest to develop. After finishing college in 2000, she married and welcomed her first child, triggering an episode of postpartum depression. It was just during this period that she realized “magical effect” of exercise. She felt determined to provide other women a similar outlet.
Saudi Women in the Kingdom’s Sports Sector—and Beyond
The Education ministry’s decision is one of many in the last few years that have supported the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic and social development plan. For example, in 2003, there was no licensing for female gyms or clubs and only a few private schools offered sports for girls. That’s why Al Maeena founded Jeddah United (JU), Saudi Arabia’s first private female basketball club. That was the start.
By 2012, Saudi Arabia sent its first-ever female athletes to the Summer Olympics. A year later, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz appointed the first women to the country’s advisory parliament. These actions, among others, prompted a shift in where and how women participated in society.
It was within this backdrop that JU navigated evolving cultural challenges to building out a robust and competitive women’s basketball team.
In the year five years since—and using a data-backed grassroots strategy— Al Maeena has made it her mission to maximize awareness of the benefits between sports and physical health. More so, Al Maeena’s work has paved the road to inspire women to advocate for an expansion of their rights, and role among Saudi Arabian society. As Deborah Packwood, an international sports consultant who has worked with JU, said: “[Al Maeena] has pushed the envelope for girls and women in sports, health and exercise, while simultaneously staying within the parameters of Saudi society.”
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