KABUL — Boxing is Shigofa Haidari’s passion. But in Afghanistan, that means practicing three days a week in Kabul’s Ghazi Stadium, where the Taliban used to organize public executions.
Haidari is wearing a light headscarf today. An injury prevents her from training, but she is happy to watch her friends go through all the basic boxing moves. The women are skipping, trotting slowly in single file between the punching bags, and sparring in the ring.
Yes, women’s boxing has officially gained recognition in Afghanistan a decade after the fundamentalist Taliban militia reigned over Kabul, where they forbade sport altogether as a threat that could turn humans away from God. Of course, they also banned women from leaving home unless they were covered from head to toe. Even their eyes had to be hidden behind a full burqa.
The symbolism of women boxing in Ghazi Stadium, where the ultimate punishment was meted out for those who disobeyed the Taliban’s fundamentalist edicts, is highly significant.
Boxing training in a club in Kabul — Photo: Ahmad Massoud/Zuma
Since Western countries arrived in Afghanistan, the promotion of sports has won some battles, but not yet the war against certain traditions. A fierce opposition still exists against certain disciplines, among which most certainly is women’s boxing, which aims to break the most deeply anchored taboo of Afghan society.
“We agree women can become doctors, economists or mathematicians, but not athletes,” says a former Taliban leader. He insists that when a woman practices a sport such as boxing, she commits numerous sins, including the wearing of inappropriate dress, making a spectacle of herself in front of men, and traveling without a male family member as an escort.
Mir Zarif Jallal, head of international relations at the Afghan Olympic National Comittee, explains that many still believe that physical activities linked to sport can damage a woman’s hymen. “The woman’s virginity and the signs used to prove it have a crucial significance in this country,” he says. “It constitutes one of the main reasons for the opposition to women’s boxing and other disciplines like it.”