Flexibility key to sports for Muslim women: Study

November 11, 2002

Adopting a more flexible dress code in school sports programs could encourage more young Muslim women to participate in recreational activities, suggests a new study.

The study, published in the fall issue of Women's Sport and Physical Activity Journal, identifies a flexible and modest dress code, the opportunity for sex-segregated activities and access to athletic spaces where men cannot see them as ways to encourage physical activity by Muslim girls and women.

"When such needs are not met by the physical education system or existing recreation facilities, subjects must compromise their beliefs, participate only within their religious community or stop playing completely," says lead author and University of Toronto Faculty of Physical Education and Health graduate student Yuka Nakamura. She interviewed 12 Muslim women, either Canadian-born or childhood immigrants to Canada, about their faith and physical activities. Nakamura, who conducted the research while an undergraduate student at McMaster University, presented her findings at the North American Sociology of Sport Society conference in Indianapolis on Nov. 7.

Most of the women (average age of 19) described dress codes as a limiting factor in their participation in sports. One, for example, was required to wear shorts on the school basketball team rather than being allowed to cover her legs, an experience that deterred her from pursuing school sports. When the women avoided participation in physical activity, it was usually because the education system and recreation institutions would not accommodate their needs, says Nakamura.

"Though rare, such occurrences must be alleviated quickly because negative experiences may deter Muslim girls from continuing to be physically active," she says. "If they repeatedly experience situations where physical activity is incompatible with their religious values, they may come to believe that such activity is inaccessible to them."
CONTACT: Yuka Nakamura, U of T Faculty of Physical Education and Health, 416-831-4379, yuka.nakamura@utoronto.ca or Jessica Whiteside, U of T public affairs, 416-978-5948, jessica.whiteside@utoronto.ca

University of Toronto

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