Girls-only boxing battles stereotypes in Gaza

GAZA, 16 Feb 2023:

A female-only boxing club in the Gaza Strip, the territory’s first of its kind, is breaking conservative views and gender stereotypes in the coastal enclave ruled by the Hamas Islamist group through empowering Palestinian women and girls to compete internationally.

After years of planning and hard work, a group of boxing enthusiasts has established the Palestinian Boxing Centre for Women, which hosts dozens of women aged 8-29 who train regularly at its premises.

Through the club, Palestinian women are challenging traditional gender norms and stereotypes in sports that are still dominant among many Gazans.

“Our community traditions force women to stay away from many types of sports under the pretext they are limited to men,” explained Osama Ayoub, the club’s co-founder. “But now we have planted the seed of boxing for women in Gaza.”

Ayoub, 39, had been mulling the project over when he was taking part in tournaments in Algeria, Egypt, South Korea and Jordan years ago – and he started training girls on the beach and in public parks in Gaza in 2017.

He was inspired after witnessing “the fantastic performance of Arab women of different ages” during international competitions.

When Ayoub pitched his idea to friends and colleagues, none of them thought it would be feasible because people tend to have strictly conservative ideas about women, he says.


But as the project has progressed, the coach says that many people have started to change their views on women’s boxing.

“I love this sport because it gives us confidence and teaches us to defend ourselves,” said Hala Ayoub, 18.

Her goal is to show everyone that the sport is for both men and women and that “every woman has the right to achieve her ambition and play the sport she loves”.

“I aspire to participate in international tournaments, to raise the Palestinian flag and to have society feel proud of us.”

For Jodi al-Nimer, 15, boxing opened her eyes to a new world and gave her a positive energy that allowed her to overcome certain fears.

“I dream of becoming a doctor when I grow up and a boxing champion, to represent Palestine in Arab and international competitions,” al-Nimer says as she delivers punches with her boxing gloves.

Ali Abdul Shafi, the club’s other co-founder, said the project started just three months ago – thanks to the joint funds he and Ayoub injected into the programme to complement a bank loan.

The team bought equipment and set up a gym with the initial investment and are now looking to grow the project further – thanks to the support of an international boxing club that has the financial muscle and connections to enable athletes to join championships abroad.

But there is another challenge to overcome after Israel imposed a land, sea and air blockade on Gaza when Hamas – considered a a terrorist group by Israel – took control of the strip in 2007.

The blockage has significantly limited the movement of people in and out of Gaza and the occupied West Bank, with many athletes struggle to obtain the necessary permits to train or compete abroad.

But despite the difficulties, the women’s boxing centre in Gaza continues to work tirelessly to ensure young women continue to feel empowered and dream big.