In the Arab world, women are often stereotyped as being weak and defenceless. But now that image is being challenged by the Middle East's first ever female boxing team. Malcolm Brabant reports from Amman
In the Arab world, women are often stereotyped as being weak and defenceless. But now that image is being challenged by the Middle East's first ever female boxing team, as Malcolm Brabant reports from Amman in Jordan.
Susanne Abu Drei, a 17-year-old schoolgirl, floats like a butterfly and lets rip with a straight right arm jab that catches her training partner plum on the chin. Susanne promptly apologises.
The gentility may be charming, but the coach of the Jordan women's boxing team wants to instil more aggression for the first international contests this year.
As she catches her breath on the ropes, the girl on the end of the big punch, Suzan Mersa, strokes her chin and grins.
Suzan is at University and studying to be an accountant, but she dreams of matching the achievements of Mohammed Ali's daughter who has been a world leader in the field of women's boxing.
Boxing with the blessing of Prince Rashid
The women's boxing team was set up with the blessing of Jordan's Prince Rashid. While the women may have the patronage of the country's progressive Royal family they face bitter disapproval from traditionalists.
Sarah Alamiah,a seventeen-year-old student is not the slightest bit intimidated by the age old prejudice of the Middle East.
The boxing ring is just one area where Jordan is working to break down the walls of sexual discrimination, and even if the men don't approve, they are no message.
"Saudi Arabia should follow"
Benngadi Abdel Madjid, is the girl's coach. He's a former amateur world champion. He comes from Algeria, one of the Maghreb countries where women's boxing is well established.
"Boxing is a universal sport and can be for men and women," say Benngadi. "And why shouldn't the more conservative countries like Saudi Arabia follow J
Ibrahim Zaboub is a national amateur champion who will be shouldering Jordanian future hopes.
"We have to take women's boxing seriously. Look at Mohammed Ali's daughter! She's a champion and she can even beat men."
Jordanian fathers and Western mothers
One highly significant common thread running through this team is that most of the women come from homes with mixed marriages between Jordanian fathers and Western mothers.
Susanne Abu Drei's mother Teresa is from Valencia in Spain. And when she arrived in Jordan twenty years ago, she was forced to cover up and wear a veil.
Susanne is proud to be a pioneer...
"It's very difficult to imagine conservative countries like Saudi Arabia ever allowing women to don boxing gloves," muses Teresa. "But revolutions have to start somewhere, and perhaps these young fighters will prove to be the catalyst."
© DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE 2004