News / Middle East

Afghan Women Use Boxing to Fight Stereotypes

A group of young women are learning to box in the same Kabul stadium that was once used for Taliban executions, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2011.
A group of young women are learning to box in the same Kabul stadium that was once used for Taliban executions, Kabul, Afghanistan, 2011.
Sean Maroney

During the Taliban's oppressive rule in the 1990s, Afghan women were stripped of most of their rights. Women were not allowed to work or get an education, much less take part in sports. Now, more than a decade later, a group of young women in Kabul not only are learning to box, but doing it in the same Kabul stadium that was once used for Taliban executions.

The young women are pushing the limits of cultural acceptance in Afghanistan. They wear boxing gloves instead of burqas. They are members of Afghanistan's national female boxing team, created in 2007 by their country's Olympic Commission.

Nineteen-year-old Shabnam Rahimi has been with the team since the start.

“This sport is very exciting. I love its action,” she said.

Rahimi grew up surrounded by war, nearly constant violence. Here, she trains as a woman, free to fight back.

“I love that we can defend ourselves,” she said.

Studying the sweet science

This is the sound of women fighting against prejudice in Afghanistan. These young women say boxing gives them a sense of confidence that they want to share with future generations.

“I want to become a good trainer, and I want to teach other girls how to box. I will encourage other girls to learn boxing," said Rahimi.

Wearing boxing gloves instead of burqas, these young women are members of Afghanistan's national female boxing team, created in 2007 by their country's Olympic Commission.
Wearing boxing gloves instead of burqas, these young women are members of Afghanistan's national female boxing team, created in 2007 by their country's Olympic Commission.

Each week, these women come here. Boxing is their sport, and their passion, their personal fight against years of oppression. But only inside this gym - where it is safe and sanctioned by the government. When they step outside these doors, they still face oppression and fear of Taliban retaliation.

Team trainer Mohammad Saber Sharifi said all Afghans take risks as they try to move out of decades of war.

"There are a lot of difficulties in Afghanistan, for example security and economic problems. But this is a big step for us, and also for the world," said Sharifi.

Organizers hope to take the team to the 2012 Olympic Games in London. But for these boxers, this fight isn't only for a championship, but for a new vision of Afghanistan.

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