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Younis and Hussain Qambrani

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Pakistan Shaheen Boxing Club 

Last year in the smallest yet densest neighbourhoods of Karachi, Pakistan, the inhabitants could sense a revolution coming. It all started when Khadijah approached the 2013 Sindh boxing champion and resident of Lyari, Nadir Kachi, and asked him to train her. She wanted to learn the sport but found no club that was willing to teach her. All the girls she knew used to watch practice session videos and matches online, with a dream to punch out the patriarchy. But they had no way of competing. In Pakistan, women playing sports has long been a taboo. 

In 1996, when sisters Shaiza and Sharmeen Khan first tried to introduce women's cricket in Pakistan, they were met with court cases and even death threats. The government refused them permission to play against India in 1997, and ruled that women were forbidden from playing sports in public. Shazia Hidayat was the only female athlete on the Pakistan team competing at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, becoming the second woman to ever represent Pakistan in an Olympic event. Maria Toorpakai Wazir, a 22-year-old Squash player from Waziristan—a highly conservative area of Pakistan—had to disguise herself as a boy to play the sport she loved. Be it boxing or any other sport, Pakistani women have never had it easy. 

And nor did Khadijah. But thankfully she had Nadir, who took her to his boxing coach, Younis Qamrani. Younis had been training his two girls, Anum and Urooj, since their childhood. ‘I’m training them to become international level players. They will make me proud one day. I’m with them,’ said Younis, who comes from a family of boxing champions. Younis has been training male boxers since 1992 and willingly took Khadijah under his wing. 

As word spread, other girls of the vicinity started to get interested and before he knew, Younis was training 13 girls at his house. He knew what he needed to do next—get a training space and launch an official training program for the aspirising pugilists. But outside the ring, there were worse challenges to face. ‘The cultural environment wasn’t at its best,’ said Younis. ‘Mr. Asghar Baloch, the Secretary of Sindh Boxing Association had contacted me to inform that he is negotiating with the Government for organising women boxing camps. But I was very afraid of the adverse reaction of people.’

While female boxers from other countries were competing all over the world, Pakistan was lagging behind. Ever since the Pakistan Boxing Federation was formed in 1948, women camps were unheard of. It was only this year in February that three Pakistani women made history as they stepped into the boxing ring at the South Asian Games in India, the first time the conservative Muslim nation permitted female boxers to compete internationally.

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