Battling Burkas

If womens boxing becomes an Olympic sport in 2012, the Afghan women’s boxing team is set to become the new feel good story, the Jamaican bobsled team if you will.

These women have a lot of heart, just to train, given restrictions on women even in post-Taliban Afghanistan:

The training is sponsored by a peace group who want to give women more self-respect, and reclaim boxing as a sport in a country scarred by conflict – making martial arts constructive and not destructive. They call it “fighting for peace”. Between training sessions the boxers sit down and discuss non-violent approaches to conflict resolution.

The NGO backing the project, Co-operation for Peace and Unity, is headed by Kanishka Nawabi. He says they are teaching women to be confident and regain self-respect in a male-dominated society. [Link]

Of course, there are some men who will be threatened for precisely that reason – they don’t women playing sports, especially not violent ones, and they definitely don’t want them to become to assertive. This is why it’s a subversive action. After all, this is what is happening to women in regular schools:

In the southern Afghan province of Helmand, the Taliban is waging war not only on foreign and Afghan troops, but on education. Of 224 schools that opened after the Taliban fell, at least 90 have been forced to close because of threats and attack — especially schools that teach girls. [Link]

and the girls from the Kabul Beauty School have been threatened with death for defaming the country (not because of their beautician work but because of the other things the book says about them).

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p>Click on the image below to go to the video newsclip. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to embed it, but the video is fun, enlightening and short.

53 thoughts on “Battling Burkas

  1. I like to see women in uniform as well as those interested in martial arts and sports. BRAVO!

  2. It’ll be interesting to see how in coming months, these girls battle with the mullahs, if any of them decide to intervene. I hope the journalist/writer does a follow-up on them in 6-8 months, or at least does not drop this story from her/his radar.

  3. New market for Don King, though he better not try to play these Scytho-Amazonian pugilists like he played Iron Mike.

  4. what i’d like to see is a 12-round bout between these feministic pugilists and the taliban’s leading luminaries, and marquis of queensbury be damned. sort of kick-boxing meets the erstwhile wwf on hallowed turf, with biting and scratching allowed to the talibanis and beard-pulling to the “boxerettes” (how’s that for a politically incorrect description!)

  5. Nice soundbite there, rolls of the tongue nicely for all the do-gooders who desperately want to put any positive spin on the Afghan/Iraqi tragedy. You have no idea what that country is like right now so why don’t you all moderate your comments in respect of the millions of civilians who have died because of the US? Oh thats right, you don’t want to because there is a little story about boxing in the news. For women too. Weeee…..as our brains conviniently forget the destruction of a helpless country. This is typical propaganda. Keep things in perspective, because the Western guilt trip shouldn’t be shoved behind a story about women’s boxing.

    I wish these women luck though. They need it as much as they ever did, pre or post Taliban…

  6. I wouldnt wanna step in the ring against an afghani female fighter, that’s a lot of built up frustration she’s bringin in there

  7. Afghan beauty school has put the lives of those women in danger. They were interviewed recently on NPR and are pissed at the author for exploiting them.

  8. I’m reading the Kabul Beauty School book now. As I’ve been reading it I was hoping, hoping that the author was not, despite her good intentions, delving into a cultural quagmire with her beauty school.

    Certainly the author is portrayed as someone to admire – the American lady was in an abusive relationship, which she successfully left.

    But I’m at the part, where she details the story of how she helped her close Afghan friend fake her virginity —- I was wondering how such details could be revealed w/o everyone identifying who this Afghan woman is.

    And yet, I’m drawn to the stories in the book b/c of the very personal details it reveals.

  9. Some of you are making typical PC liberal comments. The idea that the Taliban would be against women fighting because they are women is stupid. They probably would want them fighting… on their side of course. If you’ve seen any documentaries on Islamic movements in Palestine, Egypt, Iran, some countries in Africa, women were very much holding guns. In Pakistan recently, women from an Islamic school kidnapped a brothel owner. How much coverage of that was on here? You have Muslim women taking action against prostitution , which is probably one of the most exploitative phenomena in South Asia yet there’s nobody rah rahing about that action.

    I’m far from a Taliban fan, and their ignorance still makes me grind my teeth in anger, but most of them cats had bigger balls, and bigger hearts than most of their critics. They grew up seeing their whole country being demolished by Societ tanks and they beat them tough ass Soviets back. What they did after they got in power was horrendous but still some of you guys are silly and stupid with your mocking of them.

  10. Some of you are making typical PC liberal comments. The idea that the Taliban would be against women fighting because they are women is stupid.

    They are against women’s education. They are against women’s sports, as well as men’s sports like soccer that involve men with bare legs — and boxing shows far more. If you watch the clip, you’ll see the women themselves say that conservatives are unhappy with what they are doing.

    If you’ve seen any documentaries on Islamic movements in Palestine, Egypt, Iran, some countries in Africa, women were very much holding guns.

    Sure, in prescribed roles. But how do you think they will feel about this?

    The NGO backing the project … says they are teaching women to be confident and regain self-respect in a male-dominated society.
  11. bang gully-are we talking abot the same big-balled warriors who stoned women todeath in stadiums and left an entire generation of women in ignorance. And three cheers to Islamic women who took other women hostage. Oh that’s right, their male leader accused them of being a brothel owner and prostitutes. Wonder how he knew? I guess kidnapping the men who kept them in business wouldn’t have worked. After all, you can’t do stuff like that based on hearsay. Stupid and silly are words that apply to very few people around here–maybe just one. Looked in the mirror lately? Oh and have a nice day.

  12. Oh, Ennis… Grin

    I take Afghan Boxing School over Beauty School any old day, but I may be prejudiced. :) I think combat sports are the best activities for developing endurance, strength, agility and self-esteem so you know I’m all for this. Their coach, Saber Sharifi, has a lot of experience coaching and was team chief/coach for the Mongolian Amateur Boxing Federation.

    Before anyone gets their panties in a twist about the western ‘do-gooders’, the project is sponsored by Afghans Women’s Olympic/Amateur Boxing is far from a “western” idea anyway.The AIBA World Women’s Boxing Championship was in New Delhi, India last November..

    Abhi-Houston is hosting the U.S. Olympic team trials in Houston, August 20th-26th.

  13. Somewhat ironic title to the post, no?

    Sadly, emancipation comes in slow, prodding steps – like a school for girls opening somewhere in the mountains. Giant leaps such as this will remain fringe stories. I bet 99% of women in Afghanistan think these ladies are crazy.

  14. SkepMod-You’d be surprised how many people come out of the closet as boxing fans you never woulda thought. I recieve so much love and support from unlikely folks, (strangers), that it would give you pause. I had an Iraqi grandfather in dishdasha come out to support me at my last fight.

  15. I’m far from a Taliban fan, and their ignorance still makes me grind my teeth in anger, but most of them cats had bigger balls, and bigger hearts than most of their critics. They grew up seeing their whole country being demolished by Societ tanks and they beat them tough ass Soviets back. What they did after they got in power was horrendous but still some of you guys are silly and stupid with your mocking of them.

    Bang Gully – are you aware that many of the Taliban are not even Afghani? The most famous Taliban of them all – Osama is Saudi. So it was not their country they saw being demolished.

    And by bigger hearts do you mean shutting down all schools for women? Banning kite flying?

  16. You wouldn’t happen to frequent the trails around Chimborazo, would you? I think we may share a city.

    sadly, no. i stopped biking after I moved away from the wilds of central VA.

    The blog picture is my grandfather–I’d like to think i look like him but not really.

  17. “They are against women’s education. They are against women’s sports, as well as men’s sports like soccer that involve men with bare legs — and boxing shows far more. If you watch the clip, you’ll see the women themselves say that conservatives are unhappy with what they are doing.”

    I would argue that most Afghanis in Afghanistan are generally conservative. Taliban are extremists, meaning that even conservatives have problems with them. Conservatives don’t like Western pop music, but they like their traditional Afghani music which the Taliban banned. The people of Afghanistan, once the Taliban came in power,many of them did not like or agree with their policies. So those women talking about “conservatives” doesn’t imply Taliban. But of course according to desis, “Muslim conservative= Taliban” There are never any distinctions made.

    “Sure, in prescribed roles. But how do you think they will feel about this?

    The NGO backing the project … says they are teaching women to be confident and regain self-respect in a male-dominated society.”

    Well, many of these Islamic movements that recruited women pretty much argued the same thing of course. These women were gaining their self-respect in a kaffir-dominated society that wishes to exploit their bodies amongst other things.That’s not the point. The point is do not create these big ass dichotomies between conservatism and “empowring women.” I saw a news report one time that in West Bengal, amongst the Bengali Muslims there, that training little girls to box was becoming a big thing. These were religious girls, wearing hijab. When they asked them who they looked up to, the girls said “Leila Ali, because she’s a strong Muslim woman.” Theres always this sentiment on this site, sometimes implicit, other times explicit that female empowerment is somehow antithetical to Muslim nature. It may be antithetical to desi culture, and applies to desi Muslims, insofar as they are part of the desi cultural fabric, but it is not something that Islam brought to the subcontinent.

    payal-I wrote very clearly that what the Taliban did once they got in power was horrendous and that I pretty much think they’re despicable. It’s just that I don’t respect people who have never been into a fistfight talking shit about people who put lives down for something big. So please leave your lame attempts at dissing me out of the convo please.

  18. “Bang Gully – are you aware that many of the Taliban are not even Afghani? The most famous Taliban of them all – Osama is Saudi. So it was not their country they saw being demolished.

    And by bigger hearts do you mean shutting down all schools for women? Banning kite flying? “

    BadIndiangirl- Osama bin Laden is not a Taliban. Most of the Taliban are ethnically Pashtun or Pathan, which is the ethnic group that is most identified with the term “Afghani.”

    Again, my reference to bigger hearts was the courage it takes to fight the Soviet army and defeat them. The Soviets blood was colder than a polar bear’s toenails when it came to combat and the reason the Taliban were initially respected in Afghanistan was on that platform.

    What I’m basically saying is that nobody faults every individual soldier for the atrocities committed by the American army as a whole. We know that they are people who have been caught up in the military system. The same logic should apply to the Taliban, who really were people who saw their country being destroyed and joined the movement that was mobilising to do something about it. You can definitely fault certain leaders, but the average person was caught up in something which was hard to get out of.

  19. So calling people silly and stupid is respectful and brawling is the main qualification for commenting on world news Try leaving your lame comments out of the ‘convo’ until you have something to say that makes sense,please

  20. What I’m basically saying is that nobody faults every individual soldier for the atrocities committed by the American army as a whole. We know that they are people who have been caught up in the military system.

    The Taliban’s repression is SOP….it is fair to blame its soldiers and the state that sponsors them

  21. Again, my reference to bigger hearts was the courage it takes to fight the Soviet army and defeat them. The Soviets blood was colder than a polar bear’s toenails when it came to combat and the reason the Taliban were initially respected in Afghanistan was on that platform.

    1) Are you in competition with Dan Rather for weird analogies? 2) You are aware that the US supplied the Taliban with the weapons and training to defeat the Soviets?

    I am not denying the country was ravaged by the Soviets but the Taliban did not improve in any way the lives of the Afghanis by taking over.

  22. We know that they are people who have been caught up in the military system. The same logic should apply to the Taliban, who really were people who saw their country being destroyed and joined the movement that was mobilising to do something about it. You can definitely fault certain leaders, but the average person was caught up in something which was hard to get out of.
    What they did after they got in power was horrendous but still some of you guys are silly and stupid with your mocking of them.

    You are willing to cut Taliban fighters a lot of slack, but very happy to label some of us silly and stupid based on one post. Ever heard of the phrase ‘criticize the action, not the person’? ;)

  23. Hey, how about those Afghan women boxers? Fierce, huh?

    Yes Ennis, I am aware we are straying off topic, but I felt the need to respond to the comments.

    YES! They are fierce and brave for doing something that empowers them and puts their lives and the lives of their families in danger. And change takes time and even these actions, though they may seem small to some, are steps forward to bringing Afghani women back to the freedoms they once had. I do say back because at one time Afghanistan was considered a progressive and liberal country before the invasion of the Soviets and then the Taliban.

  24. Again, my reference to bigger hearts was the courage it takes to fight the Soviet army and defeat them. The Soviets blood was colder than a polar bear’s toenails when it came to combat and the reason the Taliban were initially respected in Afghanistan was on that platform.

    There’s nothing brave about the Taliban. Bang Gully, when I read your comment, funny I was thinking that you were taking the PC cultural relativist route.

    The country was so ravaged, so I’m sure most Afghanis were more than happy to have anyone, someone stop their bombing. Indeed, probably the urban Afghanis were very much against the Taliban. And I seriously question whether the Taliban had any majority support among Afghanis — they were definitely propped up by the Saudis, Pakistan and the US — two wrongs don’t make a right and if they were fighting to overthrow one oppressive group, to put up another group (the Taliban) who were oppressive (against anyone not Pashtun; particularly the Hazeera)than that’s not bravery.

    Individually who knows the hearts of every fighter – maybe many were coerced, threatened or felt they were fighting for something else or maybe some were Pashtun elitist who had no problem committing genocide against the Hazeeras — but as an institution it is not stupid to presume that the Taliban would hate to see these Afghani women outside of anything besides a burkha.

    Yes, these women are incredibly brave. I always worry about Afghani women who are coming out of the woodwork pursuing activities they want in Afghanistan, b/c the country seems so instable that the potential for an extremist group to take control again seems a real possibility. Who knows how women who have gained attention, will be treated if groups like the Taliban retake control.

    Anyways I wonder what the background of these women are…as far as socioeconomic, etc…don’t know if that is mentioned in the article b/c I haven’t read it carefully.

  25. And change takes time and even these actions, though they may seem small to some, are steps forward to bringing Afghani women back to the freedoms they once had. I do say back because at one time Afghanistan was considered a progressive and liberal country before the invasion of the Soviets and then the Taliban.

    ooookaaayyyyy. This is pretty much what I expected. When Afghanistan was “liberal”, it was pretty much liberal only in Kabul. It did not extend to most of the country. Also it was liberal by force, meaning it came down from the edicts of the tyrant. A lot of you here have problems when religious beleifs are forced down, but when it comes to your liberal beleifs its okay to force those down.

    Before I have to hear this, I will let you know that it is a beautiful thing that these sisters are learning how to fight. They will have the confidence to defend themselves against violent males. And I think it is important and needed that desi females in their countries be educated thoroughly not only academically but also physically. The sort of soft ass passive females that I’ve seen in bangladesh for example is not cool and allows for them to be easily exploited. However, this does not mean that wearing skimpy ass skirts and acting like a skeeo is the ideal of liberation. That development in Western society is a recent development in and of itself, and should not be pushed as a norm in South Asian countries which havent even reached Western levels of material comfort. I think the liberal elites that push these agendas and look down on the masses that resist are radicals as are the radicals that beat women for reading.

  26. ‘skimpy ass skirt’? ‘acting like a skeeo’? ‘liberal elites who push these agendas are as radical as radicals who beat women for reading’? Who are these liberal elites mandating skirt lengths? Some one please tell me what’s a skeeo. I think banggully is pankaj in disguise

  27. ooookaaayyyyy. This is pretty much what I expected.

    Please explain further on what you expected?

  28. Nice soundbite there, rolls of the tongue nicely for all the do-gooders who desperately want to put any positive spin on the Afghan/Iraqi tragedy. You have no idea what that country is like right now so why don’t you all moderate your comments in respect of the millions of civilians who have died because of the US? Oh thats right, you don’t want to because there is a little story about boxing in the news.

    I think at this point many of us can acknowledge that the violence abroad has been extreme. That said, this story is about women’s boxing post-war. That’s not going to change the fact that a war happened. I’m not trying to absolve the U.S. or the Taliban — I think you’ve have a hard time finding a consensus opinion on SM about this whole thing. That said, I do think people would agree that the situation for women was not great pre-, post-, or during Taliban rule.

    I don’t think this is a desperate attempt at spin. If you had pulled this into the general narrative about how women are used as the “symbol” for justifying the war in “liberation rhetoric” in the U.S., then it might have been a more interesting comment, in my opinion.

    I’m with coach — I think the idea of this whole thing is totally fascinating. It does make me wonder, though, about widespread appeal, or how it is changing dynamics for women. That said, anything that gives you tools to build confidence and defend yourself are worth it, in my opinion. I’d love to see/read/hear more.

  29. I think banggully is pankaj in disguise

    Can’t be, (s)he is comparatively more articulate :) [no offense to Pankaj]

  30. payal-”skeeo” is slang for sexually promiscous woman. Nobody is mandating skirt lenghts, but there are many radicals who will take a “traditional” desi society becoming more open with sexuality and such things as symbolic successes. Forget the fact that nobody is eating well or living well, no the fact that people are wearing bikinis to the beach is a sure sign of the society getting better. On the flipside, you have the religious cats who think that a woman wearing hijab is a sure sign that society getting better even though people are still cheating each other and the poor still getting poorer. Thats basically what I’m saying. And theres all degrees of people in between, but that conflict seems to be the loudest.

    badindiangirl- I expected someone to point out how “liberal” and “progressive” Afghanistan was.

  31. badindiangirl- I expected someone to point out how “liberal” and “progressive” Afghanistan was

    thats hilarious. made my day..

  32. As Kipling wrote in his advice to the British soldier, “When your’e wounded and left on Afghanistan’s Plains and the women come out to cut-up what remains, just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains and go to your gawd like a soldier.

    There was a time in Afghanistan when women fought on the battlefield with men. The men were at the front of the column and were the hard-chargers. The women followed close behind to finish-off the wounded survivors (as the British discovered). This practice continued into the 1980′s when the Soviets invaded. The Soviets solved having to deal with fighting women by a ruthless tactic.

    They dropped brightly colored small toys from aircraft. Afghan children woud pick up these toys and it would blow off their arm or blind them. These timy bombs were not designed to kill but to maim. The idea was a dead child is soon forgotten and life goes on, but a maimed child has to be cared for. This is what took the women out of the battle. Afghanistan has not overcomed the Taliban because the Taliban still controll certain areas.

    It was not untill the Taliban (who were mainly foreign in leadership, Pakistan and Saudi)that women were brutalizes and marginalized.

  33. The idea that the Taliban would be against women fighting because they are women is stupid. They probably would want them fighting… on their side of course. If you’ve seen any documentaries on Islamic movements in Palestine, Egypt, Iran, some countries in Africa, women were very much holding guns.

    I don’t think the Taliban during their 5 or so years controlling Afghanistan, tried to train women into any fighting role. They did give them training to be beggers though.

  34. Rajesh-Taliban was not lead by foriegners , it was mostly Pashtun.

    PS-Just because somebody didn’t do something in a given period of time, doesnt mean they wouldnt do it if it came down to winning or losing.

    Puliogre-Why is that funny?

  35. Puliogre-Why is that funny?

    the idea of Afghanistan as a shining example of a tolerant and liberal society (as oppposed to an ultra repressive h3llh0le)

  36. I know it’s a hellhole now and has been for a long time. And seeing as I have never lived there but in reading different articles and in discussion with the Afghani woman who cuts my hair, I get the idea that life wasn’t horrible for women there pre- Soviets and Taliban an that it was more liberal and progessive compared to other Islamic countries at that time. As with any country, larger cities are more liberal than small towns. Girls wear mini-skirts and singlets in Bombay but you aren’t going to see that in small towns.

    Suggesting reading:

    East of New York, West of Kabul by Tamim Ansari

  37. more liberal and progessive compared to other Islamic countries at that time.

    ]

    thats the key to that sentence. the best of a pretty $hitty lot.

  38. PS-Just because somebody didn’t do something in a given period of time, doesnt mean they wouldnt do it if it came down to winning or losing.

    Sure, I realize that. But nothing that the Taliban did showed that they would encourage women to be anything other than beggers. And when you say, “winning or losing”, the Taliban were fighting for their existence when the US attacked and that didn’t mean they encouraged women fighters.

    Anyways you cannot compare these women boxers, who are pursuing something for their own self-fulfillment, to a role that they would play in the Taliban as soldiers – they would not I’m sure have any autonomy over their own life…it would just be oppression and exploitation.