Women boxers punch through social taboos in Sudan

Fri May 13, 2016 11:17am EDT
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By Khalid Abdelaziz

KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sweat drips from Arafat Abkar's brow as she dodges blows in an open-air arena in Khartoum's searing summer heat. Wearing only shorts and a t-shirt, the 22-year-old draws crowds in a country where Muslim mores mean women's boxing is a rare spectacle.

"When I train, more spectators watch because women's boxing is new and unfamiliar in Sudan," Abkar said proudly at the private Nile Club in the south of the city.

Sudan is ruled by Islamic law, which requires women to dress modestly. So, when she's in the street, Abkar follows the fashion by wearing loose, flowing garments and covering her hair.

In the ring, however, her bare head and defined muscles mark her out for criticism and ridicule. That is a price Abkar is willing to pay.

"People mock women who box. They think it's not feminine but they're wrong ... I don't think this sport will stop me getting married. So far, we've faced no objections from anyone, governmental or otherwise," she said.

Most families are not so supportive and another girl at the club said she boxed in secret as her family would object to her taking part in what they see as a man's sport.

Women's boxing was unheard of in Sudan until four years ago, when Sahar Mohamed took up the sport and represented her country at the All Africa Games last year. She was defeated on points in the Middleweight category by Yannick Azangue of Cameroon.

Since then, the Sudan Amateur Boxing Federation has sought to encourage women to join the sport despite social challenges.   Continued...

Sahar Mohamed Al Dooma, 26, practises boxing at Al Rabie club in Omdurman May 10,2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin abdallah