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Khadija Zen Al Abdeen Breaks Barriers for Women at World Games

Khadija standing with her paddle in had ready to play.
Khadija Zen Al Abdeen at the Unified Table Tennis at ADNEC, Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.

Khadija Zen Al Abdeen isn’t just competing at Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. She is breaking barriers and creating a more inclusive world for women of all abilities through sport.

Khadija is the first female athlete from Mauritania to compete in table tennis and the first ever Special Olympics athlete from Mauritania to compete outside her home country in any Regional or World Games.

“It’s time to change the old mindset and equal opportunity and recognition should be given based on talents and abilities,” Khadija exclaims. “There should be no disparity in sports nor in life…women and men should be seen as, and treated as, equals, in all aspects.”

Her efforts as an advocate for equality in sport have opened doors for women with and without intellectual disabilities, including her Unified partner Mariem Outhmane who competed alongside Khadija in Unified Doubles Table Tennis at the Special Olympics World Games in 2019. And with Khadija’s drive and commitment to gender equality, Mariem is just the first of many women who will have the opportunity to grow a develop meaningful life skills through sport.

Khadija (left) and Mariem (right) standing at the table tennis table awaiting the competition to start.
Khadija (left) and Mariem (right) take on the competition at Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.

“Khadija is considered one of the most influential female athletes in Mauritania,” says her coach Mohamed El Houmy, “She’s one of the amazing athletes who succeeded, even with all of the odds stacked against them. Her strong personality, charisma, perseverance and passion is the key to her success. Serving as a board member, she’s always shedding light on the urgent topics of gender equality and female empowerment. She brings discussions to the table to help advance gender equality in sports.”

Khadija and Mariem will return to Mauritania and continue training for the next competition —in the name of victory and equality.