How do these girls use Thai boxing to fight their fear of harassment and violence?
In a narrow alley in the heart of Abu Zaabal district in Qalyubia governorate, there is a "Monsters' Academy" where its founder Coach Samah teaches Thai boxing.
Not only the “Monster’s Academy founder is a woman, but most of the trainees are young ladies, not men.
At the entrance, a few young girls politely welcome you before they turn into fearless, skilled fighters as soon as they enter the ring.
What makes these girls interested in this sport?
All trainee girls agreed that the two most important reasons why they started this particular sport are to increase their physical fitness and their ability to defend themselves.
Rania, 19 year old, is one of the earliest trainees who joined the academy. She currently volunteers as an assistant to Coach Samah. She dropped out of school in the first grade of middle school to support her mother and younger siblings. She works in a cosmetics factory far from her home.
On her daily long commute, Rania occasionally faced many uncomfortable situations such as leering looks, offensive gestures and harassment in public transport. Like most Egyptian girls do, she used to try ignoring what was happening until she knew that her friend Samah was training girls to fight in their area, encouraging young girls to learn to defend themselves and have self-confidence to stand against assaults or violence.
After five years of practicing Thai boxing, Rania faced a situation that proved her exercise was not wasted effort:
"One day, I was with my mother and siblings at home when someone broke in, trying to attack us. The technique popped into my mind instantly and I hit him with my leg, a blow that caused him to fall on the ground and gave us the chance to go outside and call for help. This made me more eager to practice, and made my mother very happy with me. She encouraged me to continue practicing and going to work as usual."
Rania has something to say to Egyptian mothers: "You shouldn't be worried if your daughters are learning this sport, because they will be able to confront and defend confidently."
As for Omnia, she started boxing when she was 15. About the claim that this sport is "for boys only", she says: "Before trying it, I thought Thai boxing was very intense and it was not okay for a girl to do it. But I found it very interesting and not 'deforming' to a girl's body. On the contrary, it makes it more fit and teaches the girl how to use it as a weapon to defend herself in any situation."
17-year-old Malak believes that a girl should rely on herself to exercise and excel in the sport she loves. She describes the Academy as: “My second home that changed a lot in my life. After 3 years of boxing, I have more confidence in myself and I want to take bigger steps."
Coach Samah is very proud of her girl fighters. As more girls are joining the training, she feels she is beginning to change the stereotype about girls in sports, especially martial arts, in her neigbourhood. She says: “One day, the mother of two trainees came to me asking if she can exercise in a way that suits her health and old age. I told her that I will coordinate with the doctor and help her get started. It's never too late to start practicing a sport, and your support for others will not make you less successful."
Global research shows that for women and girls, Thai boxing acts as an emotional and physical outlet. Female Muay Thai boxers’ experiences also incorporate a desire for gender equality by resisting traditional female roles and feminine-appropriate sports. Being together in trainings creates a sense of solidarity among girls, allowing them to share their thoughts and feelings about problems they face at home and in their neighborhoods.
According to this research, trainers of the same gender could easily become role models who inspire girls to face difficult situations in their lives. This reflects positively on the girl’s physical and mental health, boosts her self-confidence, creates a sense of control over her body and motivates her to be more independent and self-determined.