Lyari’s rising boxers

March 1, 2020

Conversations with young Baloch boxers on subverting tradition and gender stereotypes

Young boxers claiming space.

"I broke Baloch tradition when I decided to become a female boxer and went to a boxing club. I had to put up with harsh words from my family and neighbours. I was confused and unsure,” says Summaiya, 25, a Baloch student in the second year of her undergraduate programme in Karachi.

She explains that she faced many difficulties. Boys in the street would taunt her as she made her way to the boxing club. “Boxing is my passion and dream,” says Summaiya.

Summaiya was born on October 23, 1995 in downtown Lyari. She completed her secondary education from Government Girls School on Gabol Road in Lyari. Summaiya is currently living in Faqeer Colony, an under-developed area of Orangi town. She is a second-year student studying Government Degree College Faqeer Colony.

“My father is a labourer. He is only the person in my family who supported and encouraged me to take up boxing,” says Summaiya, adding that she started her boxing career two years ago.

“I have participated in several boxing events in Sindh and Balochistan,” she says.

“My first international boxing match was at a world boxing championship held in Dubai in November 2019. I won my first fight against another Pakistani boxer belonging to Lyari. In the second match, I fought against an Australian boxer but lost,” she recounts.

She says she was invited by a private Dubai-based company. Several members of my family were against me travelling abroad for this tournament. It was strange news for them that I was travelling to Dubai just to be in a boxing match”, she says.

She adds that going against cultural norms and taboos was very difficult for her. Her relatives would demean her for interacting with male boxers. “It was a dream for me to be a part of Pakistan Army and to represent the army as a boxer”, she says.

Another Baloch student, Samia started boxing four years ago. She is a 19-year-old, living in the same Faqeer Colony neighbourhood.

“I am a first year pre-medical student, studying in Metrovill SITE Girls Degree College,” she tells TNS.

For Samia, boxing was a childhood passion. Her family, too, was against her pursuing it as a profession. But she has persevered in her resistance.

“Being a Baloch girl, I have faced criticism,” she says.

“I succeeded in convincing my family to allow me to continue boxing as a profession,” Samia says. Today she is a national boxer and her father is supporting her.

“But my mother and brothers are still against me boxing,” she says.

“I have participated in 25 local and national-level boxing matches,” says Samia, adding that she has won most of her fights at national level.

“The first time I participated in a boxing competition was in September 2017 in Karachi”, recalls Samia, adding that she got the first prize.

“The next month, I participated in the first Karachi Women’s Boxing Coaching Camp and won the second place. I also got the second prize in First National Bank of Pakistan Women Boxing Championship held in Karachi in 2017”, she says.

Samia won the first prize in Free Lyari Girls Boxing Championship in December 2017; and in March 2017, she won the first prize in Aseefa Bhutto Zardari First Sindh Balochistan Women Boxing Series.

“When the victories continued, the harsh comments started declining,” says Samia adding that she has won several inter-provincial boxing competitions in her four years as a boxer, which makes for a great start.

“In my boxing club in Faqeer Colony, eight Baloch girls are having their skills. They all want to become national boxers. Baloch social and cultural norms and restrictions imposed by families mostly confine them to boxing in their areas”, Samia says.

“My dream is to become an international boxer. I want to represent Pakistan,” Samia says. “Let’s see how my dream materialises. I am confident that I have the punching ability,” says Samia.

Her sporting success has also given Samia confidence in her daily life. She feels that she can protect herself if she’s ever in a tough situation. “I know how to fight. I am a boxer. I can protect myself”, says Samia.

11-year-old Sehar Rashid is another Baloch girl. She has been boxing since 2016.

“When I started boxing, my father supported me,” she recalls. “After the death of my father, some people in my our neighbourhood my mother and sister several times why they were not stopping me,” says Sehar.

A supportive family can help women who want to venture into the world of sports. Having a male ally within the family can help negotiate the patriarchal structures that confine women’s aspirations. Sehar’s father was a social worker. He never gave in to public opinion. What mattered to him, says Sehar, was that boxing was her passion.

“I want to let the world know that Baloch girls have the motivation the skills to take on anyone anywhere. I have participated in several boxing events at Sindh level and won a medal”, she says.

Ustad Fida Hussain Baloch, an international boxer and a trainer of female boxers at Nusrat Bhutto Boxing Club in Orangi Town says that these girls have great potential as boxers but might not have the same freedom as to boys. “These girls have the courage and skills to become good boxers if their families provide support them”, he tells TNS.

“I’m training these girls and honing their skills but without family support it is going to be a struggle for them,” says Baloch. They have much to fight against in the form of social and cultural taboos which discourage them from stepping out of home, he adds.

“But there are also stories of progress. Parents in many parts of Karachi, are now sending their children – including girls to learn boxing and other sports”, says Baloch.

Lyari and Orangi towns have several boxing clubs where young girls belonging to the Baloch community are honing their skills, says Ustad Fida. “But, there are many whose family circumstances do not allow them to choose boxing as a career”, he says.

The writer is a journalist based in Karachi. He can be reached on Twitter @Zafar_Khan5

Breaking gender stereotypes: Lyari’s rising female boxers