According to a government report less than one in five women born in North Africa or the Middle East participate in sports compared to three in five Australian born women.
Statistics in the UK are very similar and so a British Muslim martial arts champion, Ruqsana Begum, has decided to make sports hijabs for Muslim women. She hopes her design will increase their participation in sport.
The 32-year-old Muay Thai boxing champion says that she started Thai boxing/kickboxing when she was 18 and would train in secret.
“The reason for keeping my sport secret was that I was afraid to tell my family who might not approve of such a demanding and male dominated sport coming from a traditional Muslim Bangladeshi background,” she writes on her website.
Begum explains that being in her chosen sport has meant she has always had to breakdown stereotypes and cultural boundaries. In an interview she explains that she created a sports hijab with a hope to give Muslim girls and women an opportunity to get involved in sport without feeling guilty.
The sports hijab is more flexible than a conventional hijab. It’s made of stretchy Lycra and doesn’t require pins to hold it in place.
“This is designed to fit comfortably, so when you’re taking part in sport you’re not worried about the scarf pulling too hard or the movement. Also it’s breathable so it’s moisture resistant, so when you’re sweaty you don’t feel like you’re really heated up,” she says on Islam Channel. “It’s clean and hygienic.”
The sports hijabs were an idea inspired from when Begum saw Mulsim women competing at the Olympics wearing specially made head scarves for elite athletes. She hopes her design will become accessible to the mass market.
Being able to wear hijabs while participating in sport isn’t the sole solution to Muslim women getting active in Australia.
An Australian Social Policy Research Paper on Culturally and Linguistically diverse women in sport and recreation found that Muslim women would be more inclined to get involved if there were more women-only sports options.
The Paper said that women faced, “particular barriers relating to dress codes and inappropriate facilities…This was a particular issue for women from Muslim backgrounds.”
Begum wants sports hijabs to become part of the PE uniform. While there could be more women-only classes, sports hijabs could help more women get involved with sport at school and in general.