For the first time this summer, women from Saudi Arabia will be allowed to take part in the Olympic Games. The fact that this subject is even being debated in the twenty-first century is a sign of just how closed the Gulf kingdom has been. Indeed, before I went there recently on a fellowship from the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, I had never heard anything good about the place. Nothing, niente, nada.
Oppressed women, gruesome beheadings, human rights violations: you name it. The fact that one of our fellows was denied a visa and we had to say good-bye to him in Amman did not improve my opinion. To top it all off, the women in our group had to spend the first evening "locked" up in a hotel, as we didn't have black head-to-toe abayas to cover up with. Needless to say, after that great start, we weren't exactly looking forward to our visit.
But then things turned around 180 degrees; not just because we, the women of the group, finally got abayas and could leave our "gilded cage", but also because we were lucky enough to visit the Dar al-Hekma College for women. Dar al-Hekma means "the House of Wisdom", and that is just what we encountered. We met impressive young women and their female professors, who explained the college's ideology and introduced us to some extraordinary young ladies.
By Gabriela Keseberg Dávalos
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