Iran's flag bearer Zahra Nemati leads her national delegation during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro on August 5, 2016. Be it a wheelchair-bound archer leading her country's contingent, or one who stood out as the first U.S. Olympic athlete to compete in Hijab , female athletes were in the forefront as the Rio Olympics got underway at a glittering ceremony on Friday night.Zehra Nemati, who not only became the first-ever Iranian woman to win a gold medal at an top international competition (2012 Paralympics at London), but also made history by qualifying for both the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics, led her country's contingent.The 31-year-old Nemati had started off in taekwondo in which she had reached the black belt level before she was left paralysed in her legs after being injured in the 2003 earthquake. She then trained herself in archery.Other Iranian woman competing in Hijab are Leila Rajabi (the field events), Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin (taekwondo), Elaheh Ahmadi (air rifle), Mahlagha Jambozorg (rifle), Najmeh Khedmati (rifle and air rifle), Golnoush Sebghatollahi (air pistol and pistol), and Mahsa Javar (rowing).An equally inspiring story is of the 10-member Refugee Olympic Team's flag-bearer, athlete Rose Nathike Lokonyen, who had fled South Sudan with her family in 2002 and lived in Kenya's Kakuma refugee camp, where she used to train in bare feet.Also part of the team, which comprises five runners from South Sudan, two swimmers from Syria, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and a marathon runner from Ethiopia, is 18-year-old Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, who helped to save the lives of 20 fellow refugees when their boat started to sink whilst crossing between Turkey and Greece. Fittingly, she is one of the swimmers.In the U.S. contingent, Ibtihaj Muhammad stood out as the only female athlete in Hijab among more than 500 other American athletes.Muhammad was ranked No. 7 in the world during the 2015-2016 season. She has won individual and team medals on the World Cup circuit, including team bronze at the Senior World Championships in 2015 and team gold in 2014. “I’m hoping just my presence on Team USA changes perceptions people have about the Muslim community. A lot of people have misconceptions about who Muslims are – and what a Muslim woman even looks like. Who I am challenges and shatters those stereotypes,” Ibtihaj Muhammad says.Another break-trough for female athletes in Rio Olympics is that Saudi Arabia has sent four women to the competetions, doubling its female participation from the 2012 London Games. In track, the Saudis will send Sarah Attar, who also competed in 2012, and Cariman Abu al-Jadail. Judoka Wujud Fahmi and fencer Lubna al-Omair are the others.Other Muslim female athletes to attend in Hijab in addition to the Iranian athletes include sportswomen from Brunei, Egypt, Kenya, Palestine, Djibouti, and United Arab Emirates.The Rio Olympics is also outstanding since for the first time in the history of the Olympic Games, 45 percent of all competitors are women. That’s more than double the figure from 1976, just 40 years ago. There will be some 4,700 women competitors of 10,444 total athletes — a 6.8 percent increase since 2000.
Global Association of Moslem Women