Cultural Values are Hindering Women’s Physical Activity

Physical activity is a crucial part of a healthy lifestyle. In most countries, however, men are more likely to be active than women.

Cultural values and traditions can influence levels of physical activity among women. There is often a lack of safe, affordable and appropriate programs and places where girls and women can be active.

Globally, inactivity is the fourth leading cause of death.

Exercise is a necessity for good health. It can prevent noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, depression, breast and colon cancer and type 2 diabetes. But it isn’t only about sports – the World Health Organization (WHO) defines physical activity as “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscle that requires energy expenditure”. This means that cycling to work or school, taking the stairs, and walking instead of taking the bus all count.

As stated in the WHO’s Global Action Plan on Physical Activity 2018-2030, physical activity needs to be integrated into people’s everyday life. However, this can be challenging if cultural values don’t allow it.

In Pakistan, girls and women who cycle may experience resistance. In Saudi Arabia, women are allowed to cycle, but only on beaches and in parks and only while remaining close to their male guardian.

Women who perform sports often experience opposition based on cultural norms.

Based on a true story, the Indian movie Dangal tells the story of a father who opposes traditions and cultural values and raises and trains his two daughters Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari to win India’s first international gold medal in female wrestling. This raises quite a few eyebrows in the community.

At first, the girls loathe the training and want to be like other girls, but when the sisters complain to a friend about their father and the tough training they have to endure she replies: “I wish God had given me such a father. When a girl is born here, the only thought is to teach her household work and get her married off at 14”. Geeta and Babita’s mother initially opposes the training. In one scene, she asks her husband “Who will marry our girls?”The father confidently replies, “I will make our girls so capable that boys will not choose them, they will choose boys”.

Of course, the story is not only about choosing a life partner. It’s about gaining confidence, physical and mental strength and allowing women to decide for themselves how they want to live their lives.

When women are discouraged from being active, whether it’s walking, cycling or performing sports, their right to health is under attack.


So, what can we do to promote physical activity for women?

Emphasize the importance of physical activity for health. Physical activity is essential for good health and this should be stressed in the face of resistance.

Demand safe spaces for women. Sports and physical activity should be for all. In places where women don’t feel safe walking or cycling or when performing sports, advocacy is needed.

Encouragement is key. Just as Geeta and Babita’s father encouraged his daughters to train, we need to encourage our children and young people.

Be the change you want to see. To change cultural values and traditions we need to see women doing sports or being physically active. Don’t wait for an invitation. Women need to conquer the streets, whether on bikes or on foot just as we need to take our rightful place in the gym and in sports.

Health is a human right and physical activity plays a huge role in a healthy lifestyle.

How can physical activity be promoted for women in your community? Post your suggestions in the comment section!

7 Women Breaking Stereotypes in Pakistan

Pakistan remains one of the most male-dominated societies in the world, and women still tend to be portrayed or stigmatised as subordinates. In the patriarchal culture of Pakistan, women are often limited to doing domestic work and forced to hide the talents and skills they possess.

Recently, however, more and more women have been breaking stigma and stereotypes by doing and achieving things traditionally seen as being ‘only for men’.

Here are 7 Pakistani women breaking stereotypes like they should be broken! 

Namira Salim

Namira Salim is the first Pakistani woman to reach the North and South Poles and, as a Founder Astronaut for Virgin Galactic, she’s the first future Space Tourist from South Asia to travel into space. Salim started her own initiative, SpaceTrust, which promotes Space as the New Frontier for Peace via novel peace theme initiatives to inspire change, encourage dialogue and enrich education.

Samina Baig 

Samina Baig is the first Pakistani woman to climb Mount Everest and the Seven Summits. She was awarded the Pride of Performance by the government of Pakistan, and runs initiatives that encourage women to take part in outdoor activities. Last year, Baig was appointed as the National Goodwill Ambassador for Pakistan by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Ayesha Farooq

“Instead of looking up to role models, become one yourself”Ayesha Farooq. Farooq is the first female to become a fighter pilot in the Pakistani Air Force. She’s also made history as the first woman to be assigned to one of Pakistan’s front-line dogfighting squadrons. 

Sana Mir

Sana Mir is the former Captain of the Pakistan national women’s cricket team. She was first female Pakistani cricketer to rank number one in the International Cricket Council bowler rankings, and led Pakistan to two gold medals in Asian Games in 2010 and 2014. Mir has been vocal in recent years when speaking out against body-shaming in sports advertising.

Zenith Irfan

Zenith Irfan is the first female motorcyclist to ride across Pakistan and an all-round bad-ass. After her father’s early death, Irfan decided to fulfil his dream to tour the world on a motorbike. The journey was a huge step in a country where it can be taboo for women to venture out alone, nevermind on a motorbike, and CNN have called her “Pakistan’s boundary-breaking motorcycle girl”. 

Tahira Safdar

Justice Tahira Safdar is the first woman chief justice of any court in the history of Pakistan, currently serving as the Chief Justice of Balochistan High Court (Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest province). In a patriarchal society like Pakistan, where the subject of law and the profession of judiciary are preserved for men, Tahira Safdar has set one of the finest and most inspiring examples for women in Pakistan.

Uzma Nawaz

Did you just say that car repairing can only be done by men? Well, Uzma Nawaz, the first female car mechanic in Pakistan, is here to prove you wrong.

These are just some of the women in Pakistan who have broken through in a society that’s still very much dominated by men. I find each of these women incredibly inspiring, and hope that they can be a source of inspiration for other women out there too. What are you waiting for?!