It was as recently as the 1900 Paris Games that women were first invited to participate in the Olympics Games. Historically, the Games acted as a celebration of only male strength and prowess. As the years have passed, the comparative athletic ability of sportswomen has gained recognition.
Year on year, additional women’s events have been introduced and women’s athleticism continues to be increasingly acknowledged. With the introduction of women’s boxing at the 2012 London Olympics, every sport now includes a women’s event.
Muslim women have faced particularly complex obstacles in order to compete in the Olympics - these have gone beyond the need for basic recognition of the ability of women on the sportsfield. They have been restricted by constraints that are equally political, social and religious.
It was during the 2012 London Games, that Qatar, Brunei and Saudi Arabia each sent female participants. For the first time in the history of the Games, every national Olympic committee had teams made up of both male and female competitors.
Four years on, during the 2016 Olympic Games, we can identify the great strides being made in the participation of Muslim women in sport on the international stage. To date, 14 medals have been won at the Rio Games, proving that Muslim women continue to defy stereotypes.
Below, we put the spotlight on a few of these inspirational sportswomen as they voice what their taking part in the Olympics means to them.
Ines Boubakri, Tunisia, fencing: Bronze
The 27-year-old said when she won: “This medal, it’s historic for Tunisia. It’s incredible. I hope that this will be a message for all Tunisians, especially our youth, all Tunisian women, the Arab woman. A message which says that you must believe that women exist and they have their place in society.”
Majlinda Kelmendi, Kosovo, judo: Gold
Majlinda Kelmendi made history at the Rio Games as she took gold in judo to become the first athlete from Kosovo to win an Olympic medal, a feeling she said she would not trade for any amount of money in the world.
Ibtihaj Muhammad, USA, fencing: Bronze
Ibtihaj Muhammad, 30, won a bronze medal in the team sabre event. After winning she told CNN: “What I love about my experience here as a minority member of Team USA is that I’m able to encourage other youth to pursue their dreams, to not let other people dictate their journey for them.”
Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin, Iran, taekwondo: Bronze
Competing in the -57kg category in taekwondo, Alizadeh picked up a bronze medal, making the 18-year-old the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal. “I am so happy for Iranian girls because it is the first medal and I hope at the next Olympics we will get a gold,” she said.
Sara Ahmed, Egypt, weightlifting: Bronze
Egyptian weightlifter Sara Ahmed said she had blazed a trail for women athletes after becoming the first female from her country to stand on the Olympic podium with weightlifting bronze at Rio. Ahmed is the first Arab woman to win an Olympic weightlifting medal.