Female students at Iraqi colleges of physical education are frustrated they cannot put what they learn to practical use due to the conservative values in the society, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reports.
Student Suaad Khadhum told RFI that "the social environment in present-day Iraq is not conducive to girls engaging in outdoor sports activities and even physical education students have to do it within the confines of their college or at home."
She said that the conservative outlook is also visible in the courses, "which are overwhelmingly theoretical, with a minimum of actual physical training and exercise."
Shurooq Saleh told RFI that applying what female students learn outside "is virtually impossible due to the lack of sports facilities."
She said "starting [up] female-only sports centers would reassure parents and persuade them to allow their daughters to frequent these facilities for exercise and leisure."
Shireen Ali said that she would like to see clubs and facilities where women can exercise and develop their sporting potential like in other countries. She said "this remains a wish at present but I am hopeful that one day Iraq too will be a country with flourishing women's sports."
Dr. Mudhaffar Abdullah Shafiq, chairman of the Iraqi association of sports and exercise medicine, told RFI that sports and exercise in general are alien to Iraqi women, who also have bad eating habits.
He said that a tremendous awareness campaign is required about the physical and psychological benefits of sport and exercise to women, including the favorable impact on their looks as well as stamina for working women.
Thuraya Najim, a member of the parliamentary youth and sports committee, told RFI that sports education starts both at home and school.
She urged the government to make sports compulsory, as many schools skip physical education in favor of other subjects because they view exercise as unimportant.
Fawziya al Attiya, a professor of sociology at Baghdad University, told RFI that traditional customs and values restrict the chances of women engaging in sport throughout the Arab world and Iraq is no exception.
She recalled the situation was better in the 1960s and 1970s, when attention was paid to sports at school and clubs had sportswomen as swimmers, gymnasts, tennis players, etc. But wars, international sanctions, and violence in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 have conspired to disrupt this trend.
Al Attiya said she hopes that stability, modern education, better economic conditions, and higher living standards will contribute to encourage women to re-engage in sport.