Gloves are put on for these women in Iraq who strike the taboos of “macho society”

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Iraq: Hajjar won gold in the 70 kilogram category at a boxing tournament.

Najaf, Iraq:

Iraqi boxer Bushra al-Hajjar jumps into the ring, gloves raised at eye level, and hits her training partner.

Its biggest struggle, however, is to strike a blow against social taboos.

In Iraq’s Shia Muslim holy city of Najaf, the sight of a women’s boxing gym is unusual but, like others here, the 35-year-old boxing instructor battles deep-rooted taboos.

“At home, I have a complete training room, with mats and a punching bag,” explains the mother of two, who also practices karate.

Hajjar won gold in the 70 kilogram category at a boxing tournament in the capital Baghdad in December.

“My family and friends are very supportive of me, they are very happy with the level that I have reached,” she said, a blue scarf pulled tight to her hair.

Twice a week, she trains at a private university in Najaf, 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of Baghdad, where she also teaches sports.

In an extremely conservative Iraq, and in particular in Najaf, Hajjar admits that his adventure raised eyebrows.

“We encountered a lot of difficulties,” she said. “We are a conservative society that has a hard time accepting this stuff.”

She remembers the protests when the training centers for women opened, but said that “today there are a lot of rooms”.

“Macho society”

Boxing student Ola Mustafa, 16, taking a break from her punching bag, said: “We live in a macho society that opposes the success of women.”

However, she said she had the support not only of her trainer, but also of her parents and brother, signaling that social change was underway.

“People are gradually starting to accept it,” she said. “If more girls try it, the company will automatically accept it.”

Iraqi Boxing Federation President Ali Taklif acknowledges that Iraqi women practicing the sport is a “recent phenomenon”, but says it is gaining ground.

“There are a lot of requests from women who want to join,” he said, adding that Iraq now has around 20 women’s boxing clubs.

More than 100 boxers took part in a tournament in December, in all categories, he added.

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

From father to daughter

In the past Iraq had a proud tradition of women in sport, especially in the 1970s and 1980s.

Whether in basketball, volleyball or cycling, women’s teams regularly participate in regional tournaments.

But sanctions, decades of conflict and a hardening of conservative social values ​​ended this era, with only the autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq largely spared.

There has been a slight turnaround in recent years, with women engaging in a variety of sports including kickboxing.

For Hajer Ghazi, who at 13 won a silver medal in December, boxing is a family affair.

His father, a seasoned professional boxer, encouraged his children to follow in his footsteps.

His sisters and older brother Ali are also boxers.

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

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

He recognizes that certain “sensibilities” remain linked to traditional tribal values.

As an example, he underlined that “when their trainer wants them to run, he takes them to the outskirts of the city”, far from too many onlookers.

(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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