Iraqi boxer Bushra al-Hajar jumps into the ring, raises his gloves to eye level and attacks his sparring opponent.
But her bigger struggle is to hit the social taboo.
The sight of a women’s boxing hall is rare in the city of Najaf, but like everyone else here, a 35-year-old boxing instructor is fighting a deeply trained taboo.
“The house has a complete training room with mats and punching bags,” said the two mothers practicing karate.
Hajjar won a 70kg class gold medal at a boxing tournament held in the capital Baghdad in December.
“My family and friends are very supportive and very happy with the level I have reached,” she said. The blue scarf was pulling my hair tight.
She trains twice a week at a private university in Najaf, 100km south of Baghdad. I also teach sports there.
In overwhelmingly conservative Iraq, especially Najaf, Hajar admits that her adventure was frowned upon.
“We have encountered many difficulties,” she said. “We are a conservative society where it is difficult to accept this.”
She recalls the protests when the training facility for women was first opened, but said, “There are many halls today.”
Boxing student Oramstafa, 16, took a break from the punching bag and lamented, “We live in a macho society that opposes the success of women.”
However, she states that she is supported not only by trainers, but also by her parents and siblings, indicating that society is undergoing change.
“People are gradually starting to accept it,” she said. “The more girls try, the more society will automatically accept it.”
Iraqi boxing federation president Ali Tacliffe admits that Iraqi women engaged in the sport are a “recent phenomenon,” but said it is steadily progressing.
“There is a lot of demand from women who want to participate,” he added, adding that there are currently about 20 women’s boxing clubs in Iraq.
Taklif noted that more than 100 female boxers in all categories participated in the December tournament.
But, “like any other sport (Iraq), this area is plagued by a lack of infrastructure, training facilities and equipment.”
In the past, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, Iraq had a proud tradition of women in sports.
Whether it’s basketball, volleyball or cycling, the women’s team regularly participated in local tournaments.
However, sanctions, decades of conflict, and strengthening of conservative social values have put an end to this era, leaving most of the autonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.
In recent years there has been a timid reversal and women are embracing a variety of sports, including kickboxing.
For Hajer Ghazi, who won the silver medal in December at the age of 13, boxing is carried out in the family.
Her father, a veteran professional boxer, encouraged his children to follow in his footsteps.
Her sister and brother Ali are both boxers.
“Our father supports us more than the state,” Ali said in his hometown of southwestern Iraq, Amara.
“Women have the right to play sports, which is normal,” claims his father, Hassanein Gazi, a 55-year-old truck driver who won several medals during his heyday.
He recognizes that certain “sensitivity” remains in relation to traditional tribal values.
As an example, he pointed out, away from too many spectators, “when their coach wants them to run, he takes them to the outskirts of the town.”
http://www.gulf-times.com/story/707548/Iraqi-women-boxers-aim-sucker-punch-at-gender-tabo Iraqi female boxers aim for sucker punches with gender taboo