True Empowerment: Meet the Women Boxers of Gaza (PHOTOS)

The Palestinian Women’s Boxing Center opened in Gaza in December 2022. (Photo: WANN, Supplied)

By Salsabeel Abu Loghod

After struggling for the last five years without any kind of support, and training in a small place below the house of Captain Osama Ayoub, The Palestinian Women’s Boxing Center was eventually opened in December 2022.

But certainly, there are difficulties. The Center is the first women’s boxing club in Gaza City. With its 30 members, it aims to improve Palestinian women’s abilities in self-defense, physical fitness, and weight loss through the integration of the female element into Palestinian boxing.

The club faces several challenges due to the hermetic Israeli siege imposed on the Strip as well as Palestinian society’s refusal to teach girls such sports. Despite adhering to society’s traditions and customs including a covered hall, and having girl trainers for the girls, there is no transportation for the girls and no financial support has been provided despite appeals to over 90 media outlets including Arab, local and international.

“We received some negative comments on our social media accounts, claiming that women shouldn’t train, but sit at home beside their husbands. Others said, we don’t want women to beat men,” said  Ayoub.

However, a few positive comments also appeared, urging  Ayoub to continue with his idea of empowering women in a male-dominated society.

“We have talented girls who can represent Palestine in tournaments abroad in the boxing sport,” Ayoub noted.

Among the young athletes, there is fifteen-year-old Farah Abu Al-Qumsan. During a school break five years ago, Al-Qumsan was talking to her friend about sports. She learned about Ayoub from a friend of hers who is a relative of the Captain’s, who told her about the newly-opened boxing club. Farah decided to join it. Her parents agreed to allow her to sign-up as the first girl. She started boxing at the age of 11 and in November 2020, she entered a local tournament at the King’s Club in Gaza and won the award for best player.

“Even when I was a child, I have always been fascinated by boxing, and I dreamed of becoming a champion such as Muhammad Ali or Mike Tyson,” Al-Qumsan said.

Al-Qumsan is often told that this is a sport for boys only. However, many people praise her and this helps her face criticism. “I used to reject negative comments by saying that every girl should practice boxing,” said Al-Qumsan. Al-Qumsan’s mother, 39-year-old Umm Sufyan, encouraged her to box. “In God’s will, I will continue to support her until the end, and she will raise the name of Palestine in all Arab and foreign countries,” said Farah mother’s.

Like Al-Qumsan, Malak Tariq Ziyad Musleh has been often criticized for practicing boxing.

Musleh is a boxer at the Palestinian Women’s Boxing Center. She started boxing at the age of 12, five years ago. She also participated in the King’s Club tournament in 2020. “Since I used to watch boxing on YouTube, I always wondered why we didn’t have a sport like this. Therefore, when we finally had one, and I wanted to try it out,” Musleh told me.

“My dad supported me a lot since my family knew that I was very shy. I chose it because I love to think outside the box. It turned out to be a wonderful experience,” said Musleh.

Many people who watched the tournament encouraged the girls with slogans and chants.  This gave them the strength to move forward, while some remained critical.

“My friends were ashamed and they were crying when they received negative comments. Therefore, since I am the oldest girl in the team, I stood beside them and encouraged them,” said  Musleh.

Following the negative comments, some girls did not box for a while, but thanks to Ayoub’s support, they overcame all difficulties.

They develop their abilities by watching international boxing women’s training on the internet.

“My dream is to raise the flag of Palestine and participate in local and international championships and make the world see that there are people in Palestine who have wonderful capabilities,” Musleh told me.

“The blockade is what prevents these things from developing. I want to send a message to everybody:  boxing is a sport like any other. At The Palestinian Women’s Boxing Center, you will be trained by a girl coach, and you will see positive things happening to you. You will strengthen your personality so that no one can hurt you.”

(All Photos: WANN, Supplied)

– Salsabeel Abu Loghod is a student at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza, specializing in English literature. Her writings appear in We Are Not Numbers. WANN contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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