“I like to help girls in my country in order to improve their skills, so they can be the same as girls in other countries. Also, I want to help bring an end to violence against women in Afghanistan” – Sima Azimi
Sima Azimi is Afghanistan’s first female Wushu trainer.
In Iran, Azimi picked up a gold and bronze medal after taking part in two competitions. Back home, she made it her mission to train young girls who lived in the Hazara-dominated neighbourhoods of the capital. Azimi charges the schoolgirls and university students who attend her class $2 to $5 a month, depending on what they can afford.
“Some of my students’ families had problems accepting their girls studying wushu,” she says. “But I went to their homes and talked to their parents.”
In this ultra-conservative society girls are discouraged from contact sports in case an accident results in an individual’s hymen being broken; a huge stigma for unmarried women.
While there are some signs of progress for women in the country, Azimi says there’s still much to change. She firmly believes that girls and women can stand toe-to-toe with boys in martial arts. In a competition organised by the National Olympic Committee competition in Kabul, Azimi was the top female contender in kung fu.
Martial arts of all kinds are popular in Afghanistan, but it is a notoriously hard country for women, and the girls of the Shaolin Wushu club face regular harassment and abuse in addition to the normal dangers of life in Kabul.
“The biggest challenge we faced is insecurity,” said 18-year-old Zahra Timori. “Most of the time, we can’t go to the club due to insecurity.”
Her friend Shakila Muradi said she hoped that sport could help create a more peaceful climate in Afghanistan in defiance of the daily reality the girls face.
“There are many people harassing us but we ignore them and follow our goals,” she said.