The Boxing Girls of Kabul (Ariel Nasr, 2011) begins with grainy shots of a stadium where women in chadris receive lashes and another has a gun pointed to the back of her head. Fortunately, the documentary cuts before the trigger is pulled.
The startling footage sets the background for the dangers lurking for the girls participating in boxing training in Kabul. Under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, women and girls were prohibited from participating in sports, going to school, and even leaving their homes.
The situation remains highly unstable, but the first girls boxing team was established in February 2007 with the hope of showing the value of girls winning. The girls train under coach Sabir Sharifi, who was selected to participate in the 1984 Olympics, but the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan prevented him from attending. Through interviews and observational footage, we learn about their situation.
The girls on the team face enormous obstacles. They train in a gymnasium that has no ring and little other equipment. They face pressures from family and society about the appropriateness of girls participating in sports. The pressures turn physical, such as acid attacks, lashes, and hangings in another province.
At the same time, they also receive support. Their coach encourages them every step of the way. Each fighter has a family member – mother or father, in particular – who offers unending support.
These young boxers are motivated to represent their country to show the world what Afghan girls can do. They participate in two out-of-country competitions during the documentary, and it quickly becomes clear just how much their lack of equipment and appropriate training hinders them.
As they appear in competitions, their names and their accomplishments appear in the local media, and people begin to recognize them. The threats become more palpable: Their coach is confronted on the street, and the girls face threats of kidnapping. Their families are judged as well. Some girls stop participating, while others continue despite the risks.
The Boxing Girls of Kabul shares themes with Afghan Star, which is about the Afghan version of the Idol franchise and the roles women play within it. There, too, the female competitors receive some private support, but they also experience public detractions and even threats to their lives. Either way, you have to admire their courage under such tenuous conditions.