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Features

Afghan Female Martial Artists Train in the Shadow of the Taliban

November 3, 2021
Daniel Dayan
2 min read
A group of 15 young Afghan women are still attending clandestine Dai Fu classes after the Taliban takeover
A group of 15 young Afghan women are still attending clandestine Dai Fu classes after the Taliban takeover
The group train in a tiny basement with no facilities and barely enough electricity to keep the lights on
The group train in a tiny basement with no facilities and barely enough electricity to keep the lights on
The practitioners say they could no longer find a coach to train them after Kabul fell
The practitioners say they could no longer find a coach to train them after Kabul fell
"We wanted to reach the heights of success. But unfortunately, we are practicing in secret now"
"We wanted to reach the heights of success. But unfortunately, we are practicing in secret now"
Ghadrieh Rezaei has been training for more than two years and refused to give up
Ghadrieh Rezaei has been training for more than two years and refused to give up
"In the past everyone had an incentive. They thought they could rise up the ranks in sports"
"In the past everyone had an incentive. They thought they could rise up the ranks in sports"

In a tiny basement with plaster walls, headscarves on their heads and dressed in combat gear, are 15 young women learning how to fight. Before Kabul fell to the Taliban, the group all practiced Dai-Fu, a little-known martial art inspired by judo, wushu kung fu and boxing and created in Afghanistan, at a local sports club. But since the coming of the Islamic Emirate the gym doors have closed to them. Instead, they have taken refuge underground.

The Dai-Fu practitioners say they can’t even find a coach willing to train them anymore, such is the fear of the Taliban in sports circles. One of them, Ghadrieh Rezaei, has been training for more than two years and decided not to give up.  “These are women who love sport, and want to succeed, and achieve major goals. We wanted to reach the heights of success. But unfortunately, we are practicing in secret now."

The Taliban has not yet officially stated a position on women’s sports. But the athletes say militants have nonetheless visited a number of sports clubs and warned officials to refrain from admitting women. Rezaei pointed out: “Sport is also about health. Tut they have deprived us of that too.”

Hava Hosseini, another Dai-Fu practitioner, told IranWire: "Now as you can see, our discipline has faded away. In the past everyone had an incentive. They thought they could rise up the ranks in sports. But now that the Taliban have taken over Afghanistan, women are afraid. They think if they practise sport in public, the Taliban will attack them.

"Maybe it’s only those of us who have already trained who can keep this sport going for women now. With this atmosphere in Afghanistan, I don’t think other girls will take up sports, especially this one. We urge the international community to pay attention to us. And we urge the Islamic Emirate to allow us to openly and freely continue to practice our sport.”

The Taliban overran Kabul on August 15, 2021. From the beginning, the group drew red lines through much of women’s activity in Afghan public life, even scrubbing the faces of women in murals from the city walls. The school gates remain closed, the office doors locked. But many women and girls, who have spent the past 20 years believing in their abilities, have not given up and continue their activities out of sight.

This article was written by a citizen journalist under a pseudonym.

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