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DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION

Female Muslim Athletes Make a Case for Sporting the Hijab

By Tara Russell Ethridge
03-Oct-18
Female Muslim Athletes Make a Case for Sporting the Hijab


Ask any girl who wears hijab and she will tell you that playing sports while wearing one is a challenge. From dribbling with one hand and fixing your hijab with the other to jumping up to spike a volleyball only to find that your hijab has flown into your face, the majority of girls who choose to wear hijab talk about how hard it is to play sports without distraction. That is why the moment I saw a video for a Nike Pro sports hijab that was in development, I knew I had to show it to all the Grade 8 and 9 students in my writing class at the Udhailiyah branch of the Saudi Aramco Expatriate Schools. The ad showed female Muslim athletes competing in various sports; some were wearing a sports hijab that stayed in place and was fashionable. The images resonated deeply with the girls. Here was something made just for them. Capitalizing on their excitement, I pitched the idea to all Muslim girls—hijabi or not—in Grades 8 and 9 to write a persuasive letter to Nike asking for some sample performance hijabs. They jumped. At the café where we met to work on the project, I sat in awe, observing how they poured their hearts onto the page and revealed themselves to be passionate about the subject. Nine girls together crafted the most beautiful and heartfelt letter asking for some sample hijabs while I, as their teacher, basked in their ability not only to write well but their ability to advocate for themselves as Muslim athletes. They ended their letter to Nike powerfully when they placed their favorite line—“Thank you for representing us; now let us represent you”—as the very last sentence. Then we sent the letter off. And... nothing. Nothing for so long. Nothing for long enough that some of the girls even forgot they had written the letter. Then, eight months later (basically a lifetime, in teenage years) something finally happened. An email arrived in my inbox from Nike headquarters in Oregon saying that the students’ letter had made it into the hands of a woman who worked at Nike, via a friend. The admin team had read it at a staff meeting and it “captured their hearts.” Not only did they want to send the girls sample hijabs, but they wanted to write an article about them for their internal Nike magazine. Our tiny school in the Arabian desert was beyond excited about the girls being recognized by the company. We received the hijabs and the girls wear them with pride at sporting events in the Kingdom. I now refer to them as the “Nike Girls.” When the hijabs first arrived, they came in a special box with a card from Nike that spoke about smashing stereotypes and redefining expectations. Which is exactly what these girls plan to do. Tara Russell Ethridge has been roaming the world for 25 years and is a lover of all things literacy. taraethridge@gmail.com




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DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION