Women living in societies like Pakistan are used to the remark ‘Sports is for men’. The fact is that women can be as interested in sports as men are. In Pakistan, there are not many resources facilitating women in sports. There is complete absence of an environment for females to play games as males do. There are no separate playgrounds for women and there are not many women’s teams participating in any sports. Females in Pakistani society also have to face a social stigma if they show interest in playing a sport. This male-dominated society is riddled by the judgmental behaviour of people towards women in sports. This includes bullying, social isolation and other tags which sportswomen have to suffer according to the mentalities of the kind of people they come across.
Despite living in such a stereotypical society, there are many strong women in Pakistan who have given impressive performances in many international sport competitions such as the Olympics, world championships, Commonwealth Games, cricket and Asian Games. They have won gold medals in athletics, swimming, racing, cycling, karate and cricket. Their performances have always enabled them to win a good name for Pakistan.
While many Pakistani women are discouraged for their involvement in sports, there are so many inspirational examples who have challenged the norm and are defying all odds to live their dreams. Among them is Sana Mir, the former captain of the Pakistan women’s cricket team. She is the first woman cricketer to have achieved the number one rank in the ICC ODIs. She has won for Pakistan two gold medals - in the Asian Games in 2010 and 2014.
Another example is that of a girl who broke many stereotypes and zipped the mouths of many critics. She is Naseem Hameed who is said to be the fastest woman in South Asia. She is a track and field athlete who won a gold at the 100 meters event at the South Asian Federation Games (SAF) in Dhaka in 2010, by running the course in just 11.81 seconds. Now she is working as a coach at Aman Foundation and trains underprivileged children in Korangi.
Another young rising star who was just 14 when she achieved many victories for the Pakistan football team is Hajra Khan. She is the only footballer in Pakistan women’s football history to hit a record 100 goals in her career. Now she is the captain of the Pakistan women football team and plays as a striker and midfielder.
Samina Baig has shown that women are equal to men in power, courage and strength. She was only 25 when she conquered seven summits. She is the first and only woman from Pakistan to have climbed the Everest and seven other summits, such as Mount McKinley, Mount Elbrus, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Aconcagua, Carstensz Pyramid and Mount Vinson. Samina Baig is also recognised as the youngest Muslim woman to have achieved the astonishing feat. Rubab Raza has ruled the waves since when she was just 13 and became Pakistan’s first female Olympic swimmer. She did 50 meters free-style in the Summer Olympics, 2004. She also represented Pakistan in the South Asian Games (2006) and Commonwealth Games (2006). She has won two silver medals and one bronze medal and has become an inspiration for so many young women.
There are so many other examples of strong women in Pakistan. There is Maria Toorpakay Wazir, a squash player who used to disguise as a boy just to play with her brothers on the streets. She belongs to a town of KPK where being a Muslim girl taking part in sports is considered taboo. She was threatened by the Taliban after which she locked herself in her house for three years. Despite these issues, she did not give up and kept practising. This is how she won the first ever women’s event in the Nash Cup in Canada, the Southwest Squash Open and the Liberty Bell Open. She is ranked as the 56th female squash player in the world. In August 2007, President Pervez Musharraf presented her with the Salaam Pakistan Award.
Like Maria Toorpakay Wazir, there must be a lot of other women in Pakistan who are either hiding their gender or their passion. Maria stood and took a step for herself. She has definitely shown the way to other females - that if a girl is determined to make for herself a place in a predominantly male society, then there is no stopping her. There will soon be many more women in Pakistan who, instead of suppressing their dreams, will unveil their passion for sports and will let the world know about it.”
The writer is a freelance contributor. She can be reached at [email protected]
Article originally published in the September issue of SouthAsia magazine