High prices putting off women from joining gyms in Saudi Arabia

The future share of the female population in Saudi Arabia’s fitness service revenue is expected to increase compared to that of the male population. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 December 2019

High prices putting off women from joining gyms in Saudi Arabia

  • A survey says the absence of adapted facilities is one of the main reasons behind this result

JEDDAH: Since Princess Reema bint Bandar championed the licensing of female-only gyms and sports clubs by the end of 2017, the number of female-only gyms have increased around the Kingdom. Nevertheless, there is a pervasive dissatisfaction among women with the prices of gym membership and the quality of their services, as well as their limited policies. 

This can be sensed just by searching “Female fitness clubs” on Twitter and reading people’s tweets. 

There are many complaints, with many agreeing that good gyms are too expensive while the cheaper ones are “a waste of money.” Hala Al-Owaidhi, from Jeddah, said: “Despite the high prices, the quality of services is poor.” 

Sarah Al-Asta from Riyadh listed several issues. “I joined one of the most popular gyms in Saudi Arabia that belongs to a global fitness brand. I have noticed a lack of maintenance, limited options, overcrowding, as well as a huge difference between male and female gym-memberships prices, men’s membership is way cheaper than women’s,” she said. 

Salha Al-Hazmi said: “Some gyms have strange restrictions, despite the high fees we pay; sometimes we are required to pay an extra fee to join the classes. Also, when the gym has several branches, our membership is limited to the branch where we were first registered, using the membership freely in other branches around the city means paying more money just for this specific advantage.” 

The price of membership to fitness clubs in the Kingdom range approximately from SR900 ($240) to SR4,000 per month. It varies from gym to gym, according to the package.  

After granting licenses for women-only gyms began, Princess Reema, the former head of the women’s section at the General Sports Authority, said that she was targeting the licensing of 500 medium-sized gyms by the middle of 2018, in addition to the previously existing 47 gyms. 

A survey by the Saudi General Authority for Statistics published in 2018, showed that around 91 percent of Saudi females did not practice any sporting activity (150 minutes and more per week). The survey covered 26,000 households selected across Saudi Arabia. 

According to the survey, the absence of adapted facilities is one of the main reasons behind this result: 21.7 percent of females said that a lack of facilities near their residence was why they did not exercise, compared to 9.6 percent of males. 

Furthermore, a recently revealed study by Saudi researcher Wafaa Al-Shega on the social and cultural factors affecting women’s physical activity in Saudi society showed that 40 percent of Saudi women were not engaging in sports due to the prohibitive prices of gym services fees.

This view presents an obstacle for Vision 2030’s social well-being goals, which aims to increase the ratio of individuals exercising at least once a week to 40 percent of the population.

Research published in 2018 by the Ken Research Company, titled “Saudi Arabia Fitness Services Market Outlook to 2022,” stated that the growing youth population in the country, along with changing laws for women, had benefitted the exercise market. The future share of the female population in Saudi Arabia’s fitness service revenue is expected to increase compared to that of the male population.

Approximately 70 percent of the individuals who attended gyms in 2017 were men. The study expected that by 2022, the proportion of female membership would reach a little less than 50 percent due to the rise in the number of women-only fitness centers.

Lawyer Nujood Qassim said that obtaining a license for a women-only gym was a complicated process in the past due to numerous regulatory requirements — as well as the difficulty of finding professional training staff — resulting in a substantial financial burden on institutions and affecting the pricing of gym’s services. 

“The limited number of women’s fitness clubs in the Kingdom have raised their fees in the past. However, the situation now is different — many permits have been granted to open more female fitness clubs. However, what we see now is that prices have not been affected much. Despite the growing number of these clubs, owners are upholding the old prices, perhaps because of the high demand.”

If Saudi Arabia is forced to put the Hajj on hold, it will not be without precedent

Updated 05 April 2020

If Saudi Arabia is forced to put the Hajj on hold, it will not be without precedent

  • Saudi minister's remarks have called into question viability of this year's Hajj amid coronavirus crisis
  • The annual Islamic pilgrimage has a history of disruptions and cancellations going back centuries

JEDDAH: Will the Hajj, which draws millions of Muslims annually to Islam’s birthplace in Saudi Arabia, be suspended this year owing to the global coronavirus pandemic?
That question had been uppermost in the minds of millions of Muslims worldwide even before a Saudi official asked them to put on hold any plans to perform the obligatory pilgrimage, scheduled to begin in late July.
“We’ve asked our Muslim brothers around the world to wait” before making Hajj plans “until there’s clarity,” Dr. Muhammad Salih bin Taher Banten, minister of Hajj and Umrah, told state-run Al-Ekhbariya TV in comments on March 31 that quickly bounced around the world.
He added: “We've asked the world not to rush with regards to Hajj groups until the path of the epidemic becomes clear, keeping in mind the safety of pilgrims and public health as a priority.”
Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health has taken the whole gamut of precautionary measures to control the spread of COVID-19 infection in Makkah and Madinah, yet a total of more than 480 active cases have been reported in the two holy cities so far.
Last month, the Kingdom suspended the Umrah pilgrimage until further notice, halted all international passenger flights indefinitely, and blocked the entry and exit to several cities, including Makkah and Madinah.
There have been 25 deaths reported among more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases in Saudi Arabia.

Globally, more than 1,000,000 people have been infected and nearly 59,000 of them have died.
Against this backdrop, a decision to suspend the Hajj may seem at once inevitable and unprecedented.
In actual fact, the pilgrimage has experienced disruptions through the centuries due to circumstances beyond the control of Hajj authorities.
According to a report published by the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah), the first time the Hajj was interrupted was in 930 AD when the Qarmatians, a syncretic branch of Sevener Ismaili Shiite Islam that revolted against the Abbasid Caliphate, attacked pilgrims on the eighth day of Hajj.
The report says the Qarmatians, convinced that performing the Hajj was an act of idolatry, killed more than 30,000 pilgrims that year, desecrated Makkah’s Zamzam well with corpses, and ran off with the Black Stone of the Kaaba back to Hajr (Qatif nowadays), their capital on the Arabian Gulf at that time.
On account of the bloody assault, the Hajj was not performed for another 10 years, according to the Darah report.
The next disruption happened in 968 AD, says the report, citing Ibn Kathir’s book “Al-Bidaya wan-Nihayah.” It said a disease spread inside Makkah and claimed the lives of many pilgrims.

The Prophet Muhammad said, ‘If you hear of an outbreak of a plague in a land, do not enter it.’

At the same time, camels used for transporting pilgrims to Makkah died owing to a scarcity of water.
“Many of those who managed to reach Makkah safely could not live long after Hajj for the same reason,” according to the Darah report
Among those who came to Makkah to perform the Hajj in significant numbers were Egyptians.
But in 1000 AD, they could not afford to undertake the journey because of the high cost of living in the country that year.
Some 29 years later, no pilgrims from the East or Egypt came for the Hajj. According to the Darah report, in 1030 only a few Iraqi pilgrims managed to reach Makkah to perform the Hajj.
Nine years later, Iraqi, Egyptian, Central Asian and north Arabian Muslims were unable to perform the Hajj.
Dr. Emad Taher, head of the history department at King Abdul Aziz University, said the reason was political unrest and sectarian tensions.
Similarly, no one performed the Hajj in 1099 owing to fear and insecurity across the Muslim world as a result of wars.


This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Some five years before the Crusaders seized Jerusalem in 1099, lack of unity among Muslim rulers of the Arab region meant that no Muslims could manage to reach Makkah to perform the Hajj.
In 1168, Egyptians found themselves locked in confrontation with Kurdish Commander Asaduddin Shirkuh, who was hoping to extend the Zangid dynasty to Egypt. The situation naturally did not allow Egyptians to perform the Hajj.
The pilgrimage was again disrupted in the 13th century. The Darah report says no people from outside the Hijaz region could perform the Hajj between 1256 and1260.
French leader Napoleon Bonaparte’s military campaign in the Ottoman territories of Egypt and Syria from 1798 to 1801 made the standard routes to Makkah unsafe for pilgrims.
More than two centuries on, a global pandemic has cast a huge shadow of uncertainty on the Islamic pilgrimage.
Hani Nasira, an Egyptian academic and writer, said if COVID-19 cases worldwide continue to increase, a decision to halt the Hajj should come as no surprise.
“If imposed, such a decision will be wise and in full compliance with the Islamic Shariah, which basically aims to protect and preserve peoples’ lives,” he told Arab News.
“In the Holy Qur’an, Allah says, ‘and do not kill yourselves.’ Also, the Prophet Muhammad warned his companions against epidemics.

Muslims visit the Kaaba during a pilgrimage to Makkah in 1954. (AP)

“Abdulrahman bin Awf narrated that the Prophet Muhammad had said, ‘if you hear of an outbreak of a plague in a land, do not enter it; but if that epidemic breaks out in a place while you are in it, do not leave that place.’ This Hadith shows the significance of avoiding plagues.”
Nasira noted that the COVID-19 outbreak has claimed thousands of lives across the world and shows no sign of abating.
“The whole world is suffering from the swift spread of the coronavirus, which has filled people everywhere with unprecedented dread,” he told Arab News.
“With scientists having little information about the virus, a cure isn’t likely to come out soon, so the continuation of the situation makes suspending the Hajj necessary to protect lives.”
Nasira drew attention to the fact that some Muslim countries, including Iran and Turkey, are among the biggest casualties of the pandemic.
“We don’t want to add fuel to the fire. It’s illogical, and Islam also never accepts or approves that. If I were a mufti, I wouldn’t hesitate to call for a suspension,” he said.
Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, a researcher of Islamic studies, pointed out that the Hajj is not a limited ritual in the sense that it can be carried out at least once in the lifetime of an adult Muslim.
“Performing the Hajj isn’t limited to a specific time. An adult Muslim can perform the Hajj whenever he or she likes once they’ve reached the age of discretion,” he told Arab News.
“Prophet Muhammad, for instance, didn’t perform the pilgrimage in the first year the Hajj became a duty. He made his Hajj a year later,” said Al-Ghamdi, who specializes in Hadith and Islamic sciences. Like Nasira, he maintains that Islamic Shariah strongly backs public interest and wellbeing.
“In case of dire necessity, such as because of the spread of the coronavirus disease, political reasons or security compulsions, the Hajj can be suspended and this doesn’t contradict Islamic teachings,” Al-Ghamdi said. “The Almighty has ordered us to not expose ourselves to danger.”
Moreover, Al-Ghamdi said, the Hajj is founded in reason and logic, so if health officials find that a contagious sickness can cause deaths, preserving people’s lives is more important than the pilgrimage itself. “Nothing is wrong with this line of reasoning in Islamic Shariah,” he added.