Afghan girls throw punches, aim for Olympic gold

Mon Jan 2, 2012 2:00am EST
 
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By Agnieszka Flak and Hassib Sadat

KABUL (Reuters) - Teenage Afghan sisters Shabnam and Sadaf Rahimi are taking the fight for women's rights more literally than most of their peers, throwing punches in a ring as members of their country's first team of female boxers.

They practice inside a spartan gym with broken mirrors, flaking paint, four punching bags, and a concrete floor padded with faded pink and green mats. Some girls wear face masks to keep away the dust coming up from the floor.

"It was my dream to become a boxer. At first my father did not agree with me. He said girls should not be boxing," 18 year-old Sadaf told Reuters, out of breath from punching the bag. "After I got my first medal, he changed his mind."

Female boxing is still relatively unusual in most countries, but especially in Afghanistan, where many girls and women still face a struggle to secure an education or work, and activists say violence and abuse at home is common.

Three times a week, the girls come to practice at the Ghazi stadium, once used for public punishment by the Taliban, the hardline Islamists who ruled the country from 1996 to 2001.

Women were stoned for adultery there and despite an expensive revamp, its gory past sometimes spooks the athletes.

"My family fled to Iran during the Taliban...but I heard that women used to be killed here and sometimes when I exercise alone inside the stadium I panic," Sadaf said.

Under the Taliban, all sports for women were banned. They still have far fewer opportunities for exercise than men.   Continued...

 
<p>A visitor (L) watches as an Afghan woman practises inside a boxing club in Kabul December 28, 2011. Female boxing is still relatively unusual in most countries, but especially in Afghanistan, where many girls and women still face a struggle to secure an education or work, and activists say violence and abuse at home is common. Many in this conservative society still consider fighting taboo for women, and the country's first team of female boxers deal with serious threats. Picture taken December 28, 2011. REUTERS/Ahmad Masood</p>