(CNN)As athletes from around the world compete in Rio de Janeiro in the Summer Olympics, many Saudi women also dream of playing sports and winning gold medals for our country.
Despite improvements over the past decades, women in general have long not had a level playing field in sports in many countries — think of Billie Jean King’s fight for equal pay on the women’s tennis tour or the use of artificial turf for the Women’s World Cup in soccer.
But in Saudi Arabia, a complex set of historical and cultural barriers prevent sports to be practiced by the majority of women, leading to lasting negative impacts on health.
For me, sports are about discipline. They are a way of life. They are also about being a healthy woman and one day a healthy mother and grandmother.
Today, young girls are taught that their right to exercise is not important, that their health is not important. We need to change that before another generation of Saudi girls grows up without meaningful opportunities to play sports and enjoy good health.
Currently, Saudi women face higher levels of obesity than men. We are at a higher risk of diseases such as diabetes. Yet we are not encouraged to take physical education classes in state schools, and cannot safely join sport teams the way our male counterparts can.
By climbing Mount Everest in 2013, I wanted to prove to myself and the world that you can be a woman, you can be a Muslim, you can be Arab, you can be whoever you are — and also be an athlete. That windy day above the clouds, I was happy to show that with a determined heart everything is possible — even for a Saudi woman to stand on top of the world.
Though Everest was my personal gold, I believe everyone should have the right to pursue their own personal goals in sport and beyond. I hope to see more of my sister athletes standing on medal podiums, and I cannot wait for the day a Saudi woman wins gold for our country.
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