Iraqi ladies boxers purpose sucker punch at gender taboos

Iraqi boxer Bushra al-Hajjar jumps into the ring, gloves raised to eye stage, and strikes out at her sparring companion.

Her greater wrestle, although, is to ship a blow towards social taboos.

In Iraq’s Shiite Muslim holy metropolis of Najaf, the sight of a ladies’s boxing corridor is uncommon however, like others right here, the 35-year-old boxing teacher is combating deeply-ingrained taboos.

“At home, I have a full training room, with mats and a punching bag,” mentioned the mom of two, who additionally practises karate.

Hajjar gained gold within the 70 kilogram-class at a boxing match within the capital Baghdad in December.

“My family and friends are very supportive, they’re very happy with the level I’ve reached,” she mentioned, a blue scarf pulled tightly over her hair.

Twice every week, she trains at a non-public college in Najaf, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Baghdad, the place she additionally teaches sports activities.

In overwhelmingly conservative Iraq, and notably in Najaf, Hajjar acknowledges her journey has raised eyebrows.

“We’ve come across many difficulties,” she mentioned. “We’re a conservative society that has difficulty accepting these kinds of things.”

She remembers the protests when coaching amenities first opened for ladies, however mentioned “today, there are many halls”.

‘Macho society’

Boxing pupil Ola Mustafa, 16, taking a break from her punching bag, mentioned: “We live in a macho society that opposes success for women.”

However, she mentioned she has the help not solely of her coach but additionally of her mother and father and brother, signalling that social change is afoot.

“People are gradually beginning to accept it,” she mentioned. “If more girls try it out, society will automatically come to accept it.”

Iraqi boxing federation president Ali Taklif acknowledges that Iraqi ladies partaking within the sport is a “recent phenomenon”, however says it’s gaining floor.

“There is a lot of demand from females wanting to join,” he mentioned, including that Iraq now has some 20 ladies’s boxing golf equipment.

More than 100 ladies boxers have competed in a December match, in all classes, he added.

But “like other sports (in Iraq), the discipline suffers from a lack of infrastructure, training facilities and equipment”.

From father to daughters

In the previous, Iraq had a proud custom of girls in sports activities, particularly within the 1970s and 1980s.

Whether in basketball, volleyball or biking, ladies’s groups recurrently took half in regional tournaments.

But sanctions, a long time of battle and a hardening of conservative social values introduced this period to a detailed, with solely the autonomous Kurdistan area in northern Iraq largely spared.

There has been a timid reversal lately, with ladies taking over a variety of sports activities, additionally together with kickboxing.

For Hajer Ghazi, who at age 13 gained a silver medal in December, boxing runs within the household.

Her father, a veteran skilled boxer, inspired his youngsters to comply with in his footsteps.

Both her sisters and older brother Ali are additionally boxers.

“Our father supports us more than the state does,” mentioned Ali of their hometown of Amara in southwestern Iraq.

The father, Hassanein Ghazi, a 55-year-old truck driver who gained a number of medals in his heyday, insists: “Women have the right to play sports, it’s only normal.”

He recognises sure “sensitivities” stay, linked to conventional tribal values.

As an instance, he identified that “when their coach wants them to run, he takes them to the outskirts of town”, away from too many onlookers.

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