The Saudi education ministry has announced that it will now allow physical education for girls in public schools. The ultra conservative country has long been against women’s sports. Some say that sports is too masculine for women to take part in, and that sportswear is too revealing for women to wear.

The country opened the first girls’ school in the country fifty years ago. Four years ago, it allowed girls to take part in sports in private schools.

The new rule comes a month after King Salman loosened the guardianship law which had previously disallowed women to access healthcare and education without getting permission from a male guardian.

According to the education ministry, the activities will be introduced gradually, and in accordance with the rules of sharia law.

The decision is part of Saudi Vision 2030, the plan for the kingdom’s future, which was laid out last year by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The plan calls for getting 40 per cent of Saudis to exercise at least once a week.

However, it will not be so easy to implement fitness education for girls because Saudi universities do not train female gym teachers.

Hatoon al-Fassi, a Saudi academic who studies women’s history, praises the decision. “It is essential that girls around the kingdom have the opportunity to build their bodies, to care for their bodies and to respect their bodies.”

Two female athletes were part of the country’s Olympic Games delegation in 2012, after the International Olympic Committee threatened to bar the country from participating if it sent only men.

In 2016, the country sent four women to Rio.

Some women in Saudi Arabia have been defying norms and pursuing athletics despite what anyone says. Raha Moharrak became the first Saudi woman to climb Mount Everest.

Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to travel alone without a male guardian, and are still not allowed to drive. They were not allowed to vote or stand for elections until local elections were held in December 2015.

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