Image by: Balazs Gardi

Afghanistan’s 1st Female Olympic Boxer: Fighting In & Out of the Ring for Her Rights

With the 2012 Olympics quickly approaching, I am getting so excited to see the athletes from all over the world compete in sports from fencing to outdoor volleyball. Among them will be 17-year-old Sadaf Rahimi, who will become Afghanistan’s first female Olympic boxer and only the third Afghan woman to compete in the Olympics.

Sadaf is among 30 other young women who are redefining what it means to be a woman in Afghanistan, a war-torn country that doesn’t always support women’s dreams and right. But for Saber Sharifi, an Afghan man, providing women with the space to foster their strength and independence was his dream. In 2007, he launched a recruiting campaign in girls’ high schools and was able to get 2 girls to sign up for boxing. To give up on this project would be to give up on the girls, so even though a lot of people were against his idea of teaching girls boxing he continued to pursue his dream.

Today, Saber and his team of young women train in a rundown gym in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. Although they struggle with few resources, limited space and disapproving parents, they are determined to continue boxing.

Personally, I think these women are lucky to have Saber – a man who believes in them and has vowed to protect them. In fact, 19-year-old Shabnam Rahimi almost had to give up fighting and if it wasn’t for Saber she might have never stepped into the ring again. “My dad received death threats because of me two years ago,” She said. “The threat was serious, and I had to stop training for a whole month. But our coach came to my father and promised he would personally protect me. My father agreed, and I started training again.”

For these women, the sport is about so much more than becoming strong Olympic fighters. It’s about standing up for the women of Afghanistan and demonstrating their impenetrable rise to power. Halima Sadat, a 16-year-old boxer, sees boxing as something that will ultimately help her prepare for a career as a lawyer. “I want to fight corruption and go after people who take bribes and who violate our rights,” she said. “I want to make sure that powerful men don’t get away with committing crimes.” Now that is amazing to hear.

These incredible women in Afghanistan, along with their devoted coach, still have a long way to come until they are fully supported and equipped for training. But their spirit and determination will surely carry them to success. What they’re doing for women’s rights in Afghanistan is remarkably brave as their battles continue outside of the gym in their own society.

When Sadaf steps into the ring at the Olypmic Games in London, the world will witness the strength of Afghantistan. Sharifi, a former male professional boxer and an advocate for women’s rights, believes that Sadaf will change the world’s view of Afghanistan. “I hope that the world can see that Afghan women are breaking down barriers by pursuing their dreams of becoming a professional athlete. We represent this country with pride.”

Honestly, I check the official Olympic countdown on my computer almost every day. Although I stand for the U.S. Olympic team and look forward to cheering on our athletes, I can’t wait to see the other athletes that will come forth to represent their countries, hometowns, communities and families. And for Sadaf, she will step into the ring to fight for herself, her team, the women of Afghanistan and young women all over the world.

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