Bahrain’s Women Pioneers: Sameera Al Bitar
March 14, 2012 § Leave a comment
Sameera Al Bitar
In 2004, at the age of 14, Sameera Al Bitar became of the first Muslim women to represent an Arab country in the Athens Olympics. A prolific swimmer, Al Bitar has been outspoken about how she would like to use swimming to demonstrate an alternative path available to Middle Easter women.
In Athens, Sameera broke her personal record time. In the Beijing Games, Al Bitar won her heat in the 50m freestyle. Her efforts and success have had a discernable impact on female athletes in the Middle East and around the world.
Because of Sameera, Bahrain went from not having a women’s swim team to being the only country in the Arabian Gulf with a team specifically for women. To celebrate her success and achievements, the Embassy in Washington invited her to participate in an event at the 66th United Nations General Assembly to discuss sports and international development.
The invitation to act as a delegate at the event put Al Bitar on the map. She was recognized globally as an influential and widely-respected female athlete. “I’ve never been to an event where I could see how I could use my sport to help my community when I’m finished,” she said.
The event, “In the Arena: Sports as a Catalyst for International Development,” was sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development and had over 200 invited guests attend. Afterward she returned to Washington, DC, USA, where she was a student at George Washington University studying Finance and Sports Management.
“It is an honor to swim for Bahrain, as I am one of just two women on the team,” she said during an interview with her school’s athletics department. “The experience was great because once I finish swimming; I would like to do something with my community and try to get more women in the Middle East involved in sports. Bahrain is a very progressive country in comparison to many of our neighbors, and it’s wonderful that they give women the chance to compete in athletics.”
Al Bitar believes her involvement in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics shows other girls that they can accomplish their dreams. She said she hopes girls of younger generations see her as proof that they too can compete in sports on an international level.
“I think it’s very important for girls from Bahrain to have the same opportunity I was able to have,” Al Bitar said. “I think it’s very important for athletes once they are done with their sport to do something with it.”
Al Bitar, like other pioneer women from Bahrain, strives to change women’s role in the community and fight for female empowerment by encouraging increased participation.