The Olympic Stadium in Afghanistan, once a grim execution ground for women under the Taliban rule, is now home to a boxing coach and the ragtag group of determined young women he has been training. Their passion for the sport is immediately evident in their enthusiastic attempts to learn everything their coach can teach them, and in the grinning glimmer of a dream in their eyes.
Meet Shahla, Sadaf and her sister, Shabnam, three teenaged Afghan girls who train hard with their team in the hopes of boxing their way onto a world class stage and earning a berth in the 2012 Olympic Games. It’s not an easy road they travel, but the rewards they find in the sport make the effort all worthwhile.
“Boxing makes me happy,” one girl grins during her training. It allows them each to focus on their technique, and forget all of their other problems for a time.
Despite its frightening and bleak history, the gym where the girls train is a more pleasant place to be now – so long as no one is there alone. It is, however, unlike any other boxing gym most people would have seen before. Basic necessities are scarce. For example, the girls don’t have a ring to box in. They are not, however, about to let that get them down. These girls barely realize it, but they are making history – changing the world – just by showing up at their gym and doing what they love to do.
In Afghanistan, girls are generally not allowed to leave the house, not even to go to school. The Taliban hated all sports, especially boxing, and now there are girls learning to box in the same place the Taliban once used as an execution ground. The girls giggle at the idea of what their fathers and brothers would do if there were suddenly no more women in Afghanistan – they’d have to cook and clean and run the whole household by themselves every day. Even as young as they are, however, these girls are smart enough to question the way things are, and realize that they are growing up in a time when the whole world is beginning to understand the value of girls, and that even Afghan women can be progressive. Not only do they leave their houses, Shahla, Sadaf and Shabnam actually leave their country, and compete in boxing matches on the world stage.
The girls’ dreams of winning medals and bringing glory to Afghanistan through being champions in their sport hit a few stumbling blocks right out of the gate. Faced with opponents from other countries who are stronger, faster, and who have had far more advantages in their training, Kabul’s lot are soundly beaten in every single match. To top it off, once the rest of Afghanistan learns of their efforts, fear of persecution and punishment falls upon them and their families. How can anyone hope to be a champion under such conditions? Yet, as the girls’ boxing dreams begin to wane, more and more younger girls begin to trickle into the rundown gym at Olympic Stadium. Will Afghanistan grow to see a day where it can finally send a female boxing team to the Olympics, despite all odds?
The Boxing Girls Of Kabul is screening at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto Tuesday May 1 at 7:30pm (Royal) and Sunday May 6 at 1:30pm (Cumberland)