RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia is to license women's sports clubs for the first time, al-Watan daily reported, in a major step for an ultra-religious country where clerics have warned against female exercise.
Last year the conservative Islamic kingdom, where women must have permission from a male relative to take many big decisions, sent women athletes to the Olympics for the first time after pressure from international rights groups.
Until now, women's exercise facilities, including gyms, have had to be licensed by the Health Ministry and designated as "health centers".
Last April Watan, owned by a Saudi prince, reported the government had set up a ministerial committee to allow women's sports clubs. The General Presidency of Youth Welfare, which functions like a sports ministry, only regulates men's clubs.
In 2009 a member of the country's highest council of clerics said girls should not play sports lest they "lose their virginity" by tearing their hymens. State-run girls' schools do not have exercise classes.
Watan said on Friday the Interior Ministry had decided to allow women's sports clubs after reviewing a study that showed flaws in the existing system.
Wow what an accomplishment in the year 2013. At this rate we can expect women's equality in SA by the year 3030 C.E.