February 15, 2012

Appendix: Human Rights Watch Letters to Saudi Officials


Letter to the Ministry of Education

New York, August 12, 2011

H.E. Nora al-Fayez

Deputy Minister of Education for Girls’ Education

Ministry of Education

Riyadh – Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Your Excellency,

Human Rights Watch writes to seek information regarding physical education for girls in schools in Saudi Arabia. There has been some discussion about the issue recently, including about the possibility of introducing physical education for girls into the curriculum in government schools.

We refer in particular to an article in Al-Yawm newspaper of May 3, 2011 that quoted the director of girls’ education in the Eastern Province, Dr. Samir ‘Umran, as saying that girls in government schools in the Eastern Province would be able to practice sports “soon” in four new sports and cultural buildings. An article on June 20, 2011 in the same newspaper stated that a “national strategy for sports in schools in all stages of education for boys in the kingdom” was currently being prepared. The article went on, however, to indicate that the new strategy would include sports for girls. It described female educators welcoming the new strategy as a “empower[ing] Saudi women to exercise their right to sports.” These developments, if correct, would reflect a change from your statements in June 2009 to Al-Watan newspaper that quoted you in an article saying that “the time was still too soon for this topic” of sports for girls.

Human Rights Watch is currently researching the situation of women and girls’ ability to practice sports in Saudi Arabia and what obstacles remain to achieving equality with men and boys in this regard.

We therefore seek information from your ministry about the following matters:


1.       Is physical education for girls a mandatory part of the curriculum in any or all government schools for girls at present? If so, please provide details about weekly hours, types of sports or exercise practiced, and facilities used.

2.       Is it possible for government schools to offer voluntary physical education classes to girls? What are the requirements for doing so, if any?

3.       Is it possible for private schools to make physical education mandatory for girls? Is it possible for private schools to offer voluntary physical education classes for girls? If so, please provide details on whether this applies to all or only some grades, and what the requirements for doing so are.

4.       Can Saudis training to become a teacher specialize in physical education for girls? If so, what are the differences to teacher training in physical education for boys, if any? Can foreign physical education teachers receive accreditation in government or private schools?

5.       What plans does the ministry have to introduce physical education for girls in schools? Please give an expected start date, including details of weekly hours spent on physical education, types of sports or exercise practiced, and facilities used for each grade or type of school (elementary, middle, and secondary).

6.       In the view of the ministry, what obstacles, bureaucratic, logistical, political, or social, remain to implementing physical education in schools for girls?


We look forward to receiving a response to our inquiry by September 15, 2011, and would be glad to discuss the matter of physical education for girls with you in person via telephone if you prefer. Please contact Christoph Wilcke, senior researcher, Middle East and North Africa Division, at +49 89 13926193 or christoph.wilcke@hrw.org.






Sarah Leah Whitson

Executive Director

Middle East and North Africa Division


Letter from the Ministry of Education

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Ministry of Education

Girls Education

Office of the deputy

Number:  33170963

Date: December 19, 2011 (24/1/1433 hijri)


Ms. Sarah Leah Whitson

Executive Director

Middle East and North Africa Division

Human Rights Watch organization


Dear Ms. Whitson,


In reference to your letter of August 24, 2011 regarding physical education for girls in Saudi schools, we inform you that the ministry has issued no regulatory bylaws or rules that punish schools for female students practicing physical education; in fact there are sports activities in some private girls’ schools as part of their school curriculum and as extra-curricular activities.


The issue of girls' physical education is under serious consideration as one of the priorities of the ministry’s leadership that regards physical education in schools as one of the necessities helping male and female students to stay healthy. The ministry is currently working on a comprehensive educational curriculum, starting with laying the infrastructure for the project and finishing with health and nutritional education, all within the national strategy for girls’ and boys’ physical education.


This approach stems from the ministry’s comprehensive vision striving to safeguard sufficient opportunities for male and female students in all stages of public education.


With my best wishes and regards,


Deputy minister for girls’ affairs




Nura bint Abdullah al-Fayiz

Letter to the National Olympic Committee

New York, July 25, 2011

His Royal Highness Prince Nawwaf bin Faisal bin Fahd


National Olympic Committee

P.O. Box 6040

Prince Faisal Fahd Olympic Complex

Riyadh 11442

Saudi Arabia

Your Royal Highness,

Human Rights Watch writes to enquire about the efforts of Saudi Arabia’s National Olympic Committee to promote women in sports.

As one of three constituent members of the Olympic Movement, National Olympic Committees are bound to promote the fundamental values of Olympism, which state, among others, that “[t]he practice of sport is a human right … without discrimination of any kind,” and that “any form of discrimination with regard to … a person on grounds of … gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement” (Principles 4 and 5 of the Olympic Charter).

Over the past months, Human Rights Watch has been conducting research on women’s ability to practice sports in Saudi Arabia and we are encouraged by such small steps as the appointment of Ms. Arwa al-Mutabaqani to the board of the Saudi Equestrian Federation, and the participation of her daughter, Dalma Malhas, in the 2010 first Singapore Youth Olympics, the first Saudi woman to participate in an Olympic competition.

We have also been in touch with senior officials at the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne regarding the IOC’s dialogue with the Saudi Arabian National Olympic Committee on the issue of women and sports.

We seek further information about the efforts of the Saudi National Olympic Committee in this regard and ask you to respond to the following questions:

  • What sports competitions for girls or women that are approved by one of the six Saudi sports federations have taken place since 2008 within the kingdom? In addition to the date and place of the competition, please provide the sport, discipline, names of participants and times / results.
  • Has any of the six federations approved and supported national or club-level women atheletes to participate in an international sporting competition, for example the Islamic Solidarity Games, the Islamic Women’s Games, the Gulf Cooperation Council Games, the Arab Games, the Asian Games, international competitions of individual disciplines, or the Olympiad?
  • Has the Saudi Arabian Swimming Federation nominated a female athlete to participate in the 14th FINA World Championships in Shanghai in July 2011? Such a nomination is a prerequisite for entering a female athlete who did not meet time qualification requirements for the London 2012 Olympiad in a swimming discipline.
  • Does the Saudi Arabian Athletics Federation plan to nominate a female athlete who does not meet the qualification requirements for an athletic event at the 2012 London Olympiad as it is allowed to do (in swimming and athletics under rules for universal participation)?
  • Does the Saudi National Olympic Committee have a section for women’s sports? Please provide details of the sections activities.
  • How many women does the Saudi National Olympic Committee employ? What are their titles and roles?
  • Besides competitive sports, what efforts is the Saudi national Olympic Committee making to promote recreational sports for women at all ages, for example through support for accessible facilities and programs?

We ask that you send your response by August 15, 2011. Please feel free to contact our senior researcher for Saudi Arabia, Christoph Wilcke, at christoph.wilcke@hrw.orgor +49 89 13926193 (telephone), or +1 212 736 1300 (fax).


Sarah Leah Whitson

Executive Director

Middle East and North Africa Division