Twenty-five women from Afghanistan are training to box at the 2012 Olympics; the International Boxing Association has approved the wearing of hijabs beneath their headgear and clothes that cover their bodies in order to meet Islamic religious requirements. “We want to be as inclusive as we can,” an IBA spokesperson said in a recent article published by the Times Online. Oxfam is sponsoring the Afghan team in a program designed to promote peace and women’s rights.
I’d say the women’s toughest battle so far has been just convincing their families to allow them to fight. Cultural changes happen slowly, and they begin in small pockets of people who agree to a change. I expect that these women and everyone connected to them will be facing increased pressure in the coming months as word gets out. Theirs is a country where women can expect to face serious opposition, threats, harassment, and even serious bodily harm for simple freedoms that we in the U.S. have taken for granted for several generations. The ability to wear what we want, play on a sports team, or speak in public are choices our daughters have always had. The 25 Afgan boxers will have to show tremendous courage not just in the ring, but more importantly at home and in their communities in order to make their dreams a reality. I imagine they will run a tremendous risk, and my heart goes out to them. As Olympics minister Tessa Jowell said, “Their courage deserves to succeed.”
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