"The Olympics 2012 has been named ‘Year of the Woman’. Within team GB there is much evidence of this. The likes of female athletes like Jessica Ennis, the women's team pursuit cyclists and the Hosking – Copeland rowing duo have bolstered Great Britain’s place on the medal table by grabbing gold medals.
The accolade of ‘Year of the Woman’ has been earned because for the first time in Olympic history women will be represented in all 205 of the participant national teams, and make up 45% of the total athletes. This has been made possible since Saudi Arabia, Brunei and Qatar decided this year to send female athletes.
Consider then the case of Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, the female judo competitor from Saudi Arabia. The 16 year-old was given a special invitation by the International Olympic Committee to compete in the over-78kg category under the Olympic charter, which bans gender discrimination.
She was told last week by the International Judo Federation that she would not be allowed to wear her hijab, because of safety concerns. Saudi Arabia has only allowed its women to compete on the condition that they are at all times dressed in suitable clothing that complies with Sharia (religious law).
Depending on how the international community wants to present itself (democratic, tolerant), it must find ways to accommodate such expressions of religion. Some have already started this process – and ended up with solutions such as the ResportOn ‘Hijood’, which is a hoodie attached to a t-shirt made from sports fabric. It was created by Elham Seyed Javad for female Muslim athletes who want to keep their hair covered. She set about designing such a piece after learning of five Muslim girls being banned from a tae kwon do tournament in Montreal because of the health and safety question their hijabs posed.
One prominent wearer of such an item of clothing is the 28 year old athlete from Bahrain, Roqaya Al Gassra. She won the women’s 200m final at the 2006 Asian Games in Doha, making her the first Bahraini-born athlete to win a major international athletics gold medal, and has been the first ever to wear such a piece at the 2004 Olympics.
2012 will be the first year to showcase the talents of the Muslim female athletes from the participating countries, where this was not the case before, in many ways this is the year of the Muslim woman."
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