Iraqi women boxers aim sucker punch at gender taboos

Iraqi fighter Bushra al-Hajjar delve into the ring, gloves raised to eye level, and starts out at her sparring partner.

Her larger battle, however, is to provide a blow versus social taboos.

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

“At home, I have a full training room, with mats and a punching bag,” stated the mom of 2, who likewise practices karate.

Hajjar won gold in the 70 kilogram-class at a boxing competition in the capital Baghdad in December.

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

Two times a week, she trains at a personal university in Najaf, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Baghdad, where she likewise teaches sports.

In extremely conservative Iraq, and especially in Najaf, Hajjar acknowledges her experience has actually raised eyebrows.

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

She remembers the demonstrations when training centers very first opened for ladies, however stated “today, there are many halls”.

– ‘Macho society’ –

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

Nevertheless, she stated she has the assistance not just of her fitness instructor however likewise of her moms and dads and bro, signalling that social modification is afoot.

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

Iraqi boxing federation president Ali Taklif acknowledges that Iraqi ladies taking part in the sport is a “recent phenomenon”, however states it is picking up speed.

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

More than 100 ladies fighters have actually completed in a December competition, in all classifications, he included.

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

– From daddy to children –

In the past, Iraq had a happy custom of ladies in sports, specifically in the 1970s and 1980s.

Whether in basketball, beach ball or biking, ladies’s groups routinely participated in local competitions.

However sanctions, years of dispute and a hardening of conservative social worths brought this age to a close, with just the self-governing Kurdistan area in northern Iraq mostly spared.

There has actually been a shy turnaround recently, with ladies using up a variety of sports, likewise consisting of kickboxing.

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

Her daddy, a veteran expert fighter, motivated his kids to follow in his steps.

Both her sis and older bro Ali are likewise fighters.

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

The daddy, Hassanein Ghazi, a 55-year-old truck chauffeur who won a number of medals in his prime time, firmly insists: “Women have the right to play sports, it’s only normal.”

He identifies particular “sensitivities” stay, connected to conventional tribal worths.

As an example, he explained that “when their coach wants them to run, he takes them to the outskirts of town”, far from a lot of observers.


Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.