Study Buddy (Explorer): Women’s camel beauty contest makes debut in Saudi Arabia

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  • Check your reading comprehension using the questions below or in the linked Kahoot! game
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Saudi camel owner Lamia al-Rashidi talks to reporters about taking part for the first time in the King Abdelaziz Camel Festival. Photo: AFP

Content provided by the British Council

Read the following text and answer questions 1-9 below:

[1] Saudi women, in a first for the conservative kingdom, have paraded their camels in a beauty pageant for the prized “ships of the desert”. “I hope today to reach a certain social standing,” said Lamia al-Rashidi, 27. She took part in the contest in the Rumah desert northeast of the capital Riyadh.

[2] The event formed part of the prestigious King Abdelaziz Festival, which previously only allowed men to take part. “I’ve been interested in camels ever since I was little,” said Rashidi, whose family owns 40 camels. “Once this event was opened to women, I decided to participate,” said the young woman. She wore a black face covering and had a colourful shawl over her shoulders.

[3] The top five in the field of about 40 participants in the women’s event went home with prize money that totalled 1 million riyals (about HK$2 million). A camel’s beauty is judged on several criteria, but the shape and size of the lips, neck and hump are the main attributes. Last month, several contestants were disqualified because their animals had received Botox injections.

[4] In a parade at the event on the red sand track of Rumah, women in black on horseback rode ahead of men in white robes on camels. Male musicians, some with swords, danced to the beat of drums.

[5] The oil-rich Gulf state adheres to a rigid interpretation of Islam. But since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman rose to power in 2017, some restrictions on women have been lifted as the country opens up with sweeping reforms. Women are now allowed to drive cars and take part in mixed-gender settings, though a strict crackdown on dissent remains.

[6] “Women have always been an integral part of Bedouin society. They owned and looked after camels,” said Mohammed al-Harbi, a manager of the festival. The Bedouin are nomadic Arab tribes that historically share a culture of herding camels and goats. Harbi said women’s participation was in keeping with “the historical heritage” of Saudi Arabia. Munira al-Mishkhas, another participant, said: “Camels have been a part of us for a long time, but staging a contest for us [women] is a big step forward.”

[7] At just seven years old, Malath bint Enad was the youngest contestant, and her animal won third prize. Her proud father, a 35-year-old camel dealer who said he owned more than 200 beasts, was very pleased with the entrance of women. “This will increase enthusiasm for the festival and increase the value of the camels,” said Enad bin Sultan, clad in traditional costume and a red-and-white keffiyeh headdress.

[8] The 40-day festival, which kicked off in December, is an annual Bedouin event that lures breeders from across the Gulf with a total prize of up to US$66 million (HK$514.55 million).
Source: Agence France-Presse, January 9


Play a Kahoot! game about this story as a class or with your friends by clicking on the link here.

Or play on your own below to test your understanding:

1. What do the “ships of the desert” in paragraph 1 refer to?
A. cars that travel on sand
B. parts of Saudi Arabia
C. camels
D. none of the above

2. What is special about the women’s camel beauty contest?

3. Read paragraphs 2 and 3, and decide if the statements are True, False or Not Given.
(i) Rashidi started riding camels when she was a child.
(ii) The top winner of the event was given 1 million riyals.
(iii) In the contest, a camel is mostly judged by its lips, neck and hump.
(iv) Rashidi was a winner of the camel contest.

4. Why were some participants removed from the contest according to paragraph 3?

5. Find a word in paragraph 5 that means “rules that limit what someone can do”.

6. Which sentence best describes how Mohammed al-Harbi likely feels about women taking part in the camel contest in paragraph 6?
A. He agrees with the decision because women have historically played a huge part in the ownership and care of camels.
B. He is excited because it means the possibility of having more contests like this one.
C. He is concerned because there is a risk in involving women in important events.
D. He is worried that women might take over the male-dominated field of owning camels.

7. Why was the father of Malath bint Enad proud of her? (2 marks)

8. According to paragraph 7, how does Enad bin Sultan think women’s participation in the camel contest will affect his business, and why? (2 marks)

9. How often is the King Abdelaziz Festival held according to paragraph 8?
A. twice a month
B. once every year
C. every decade
D. information not given

Attendees watch camels during the sixth edition of the King Abdelaziz Camel Festival. Photo: AFP


1. C
2. In the past, only men were allowed to take part in the contest.
3. (i) NG; (ii) F; (iii) T; (iv) NG
4. because their camels had received Botox injections
5. restrictions
6. A
7. Her camel won third prize even though she was the youngest contestant.
8. It will improve his business because the value of his camels will increase.
9. B

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