Peshawar: Sofia Jawed, the first woman boxer of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is one of three female Pakistani boxers who represented Pakistan in the South Asian games in February this year. Qualifying for a spot on the national boxing team that featured in an international championship was an uphill task for Jawed.
“Despite the lack of facilities, I managed to qualify and prepare for an international event to represent Pakistan in an international event,” said Jawed, who, alongside another woman boxer Rukhsana Parveen, clinched a bronze medal in the multi-sport event held in the Indian cities of Guwahati and Shillong.
Sofia Jawed, 21, is from Peshawar. Even though she sees herself among local women who continue to break conventions and challenge stereotypes, emerging as remarkable individuals excelling in their chosen fields, it hasn’t been an easy run for her. She says initially her parents resisted, not allowing her to participate in a tough game but she managed to convince them.
“Women from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are proving their mettle in different games but boxing is a tough game, traditionally avoided by female players,” Sayyed Kamal Khan, Secretary General of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Boxing Association, told News Lens Pakistan. “However, the trend is changing. We currently have more than two dozen enthusiastic female boxers on the association’s list.”
Jawed was still new to the game when she won a bronze medal in the South Asian games earlier in the year.
She laments the lack of official patronage or support for women boxers.
“There is one boxing ring at Qayum Sports Stadium in Peshawar which is ‘males only’,” she said. “Women are not allowed to even enter the ring let alone practice. They practice in the gymnasium hall at the Stadium which lacks facilities essential for boxers.”
Jawed’s concern was echoed by the Director General of Sports Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Rashida Ghaznavi. She said women are not allowed in the same ring as men to avoid any “mishap.”
“It would be against our Pashtun culture to let men and women use the same area for practice,” said Ghaznavi. “This is why we have allowed women to use the gymnasium hall which is equipped with relevant facilities.”
Jawed is quite versatile in her choice of games. She has been learning and practicing martial arts like judo, wushu, karate and jujitsu while also cycling since 2012. She has won more than half dozen medals in different competitions which, she says, has done wonders for her morale. However what she needs is financial support if she has to keep working at mastering the games she loves.
In a male-dominated society where mobility for women is an issue, She has to travel by taxi to the stadium to practice boxing practice. Since she comes from a poor family, she is losing the support of her family of eight members, for whom her brother is the sole earner.
“I have to practice on the rooftop of my house to avoid expenses,” says Jawed. “My coach Sayyed Kamal is cooperative enough to come to my house frequently along with boxing gear to help me practice.”
Ghaznavi said sports authorities were spending huge amount of money to upgrade the sports facilities across the province which delayed payment of due prize money to players.
She said they were planning to set up more than 6 boxing rings in different parts of the province “which would help realize separate boxing rings for men and women.”
Her coach Sayyed Kamal said she was among the favourite players selected by the Pakistan Boxing Federation for the Women’s World Boxing Championship in Kazakhstan this month . “She could surprise us [with her potential] if provided with the facilities,” he said.
He said women in KP are drawn to games that were once considered to be the domain of men. “They are now breaking stereotypes. A little attention from the government can encourage women like Sofia Jawed who are struggling to stay in the game despite huge odds.”