May 17, 4 years ago

Rest Of World Weigh-In: Afghan women – the ‘Burqa Boxers’ – challenge stereotypes ahead of 2012 Olympics

Petra Kirsch – Gelsenkirchen

Under the Taliban regime, boxing was one of many banned sports, however, ten years after the collapse of the Taliban administration in Afghanistan in 2001, female fighters – nicknamed the Burqa Boxers – are challenging gender roles and stereotypes in their homeland ahead of their preparations to compete at the 2012 Olympic Games staged in London, England.

Direct link to article.

The Burqa Boxers are a squad of 25 women, the first of their kind in their country, who will not only be fighting for honours inside the ring, but also for gender equality in their homeland outside of it.

“This used to be one of the most dangerous places in Kabul, especially for the women who were brought here to be executed,” Saber Sharifi, a former Afghan boxing champion, is quoted by The Sun to have said.

Women were oppressed under the unforgiving rule of the Taliban… banned from sports, sidelined from large sections of public life, they were only given freedoms back in 2004.

“And now look,” Sharifi added. “Women are training to box. It was my dream to do this. We went to different schools and asked the girls studying there if they were interested in boxing. They didn’t take much persuading and we began in 2007 with 20 girls aged between 12 and 20. They come from a variety of backgrounds. Rich or poor, it doesn’t matter.

“Sport transcends class,” Sharifi noted. “The girls are united by their love for the sport.

“Their fight represents the fight that all women in Afghanistan are facing daily. Someone threatened me in the street… he was a very religious man and didn’t understand why I was teaching girls sport and how to box. But I ignore such people.”

The International Boxing Association has permitted boxers to wear hijab garments during competition. This, together with breast guards underneath sleeveless shirts and a head guard – faces are to be uncovered.
Shabnam and Sadaf Rahimi, two Afghan sisters, spoke of the obstacles they had to overcome. Shabnam said: “Our uncle and aunt were really against us boxing. They thought it was inappropriate behaviour and tried to stop us. They were critical because at the time girls weren’t allowed to go to school – so why should we be allowed to box? But we carried on anyway.”

Sadaf, meanwhile, explained that their growing fighting ability gave them renewed self-belief: “Over time they [the family] have seen it is a good thing. They have seen how confident we have become.”

The story of the Burqa Boxers is being documented by director Ariel Nasr and will be released in 2012 with the title: The Boxing Girls Of Kabul.

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Alan Dawson

Alan Dawson is Editor-in-Chief of On The Beak. Formerly of Goal, Bleacher Report, Yahoo, Rant Sports and 90 Minutes magazine, he is also sub-editor and team manager at Here Is The City and is the publicist at the Peacock Gym and Academy. His favourite athlete is Bernard Hopkins.

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