Flyweight Wildcard – Sadaf Rahimi & the Sparring Sorority

July 19th, 2012

Stick em up Flygrrrl


Violence against women costs the UK £40 billion per annum in lost income and public services. The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993) acknowledges it as “one of the crucial mechanisms by which women are forced into a subordinate position, compared with men”. It also made links between inequality and gender based violence against women as a crucial factor and primary violation of female human rights, making a call to all nations of the world to commit to a ‘National Action Plan/Strategy on Violence Against Women’ on this basis. So far only about 20 countries have complied. The UK is not one of them. The Campaign to End Violence Against Women in the UK (EVAW) claims that, though gender based violence against women is the most serious inequality facing women in the UK, response to it is fractured, with different policies addressing specific forms of violence. EVAW lists commonalities and connections between all forms of violence against women including the mythology used to justify abuse, the dynamics of power and control, high levels of under-reporting and low conviction rates, the extent of repeat victimisation, its longterm social, psychological and economic consequences (referring to the Corston Report) and historic failure of prevention by the state. Constance McCullagh has said that a legal framework to end violence against women is not enough, when victim services are underfunded and the vast majority of victims’ abuses never make it to the criminal justice system. She calls for a strong political will to confront and challenge the cultures that perpetuate and condone violence against women. Recently EVAW published a document which amassed and analysed literature about how gender based violence against women increases dramatically during major team based sporting events: Domestic Violence, trafficking and even violence against female athletes. They’d negotiated with LOCOG (the organisational committee of London 2012 Olympics) to include pertinent information on this subject on promotional materials and to list helpline numbers. LOCOG reneged on the agreement and compromised by listing the details of a more generalised ‘Victim Support’. Durex, who were intended to provide condoms with some of this promotional literature, soon advertised their new, larger sized condoms with the sporty image of a woman’s bandaged mouth. After complaints, Durex withdrew. George Orwell asserted Sport as a safety valve to circumvent warfare. By commutative theory, wouldn’t this information about sport and violence against women infer that sport is taking the war home – that violence against women is the safety valve to circumvent warfare? At a Seminar on Violence Against Women hosted by the Centre for Women’s Studies and Development, Panjab University, 2006, curator Aruna Goel asserted that the female body can be a platform for one up-man-ship, especially during times of war and caste struggles. According to Trevor Philiips, Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), “There is an undeclared war on women….”

Sadaf Rahimi is a heroine and pivotal public figure as the first Afghan female boxer to compete in the Olympics. London 2012 boasts the first female boxing competition….since the 1902 Olympics hosted a one-off ‘demonstration bout‘ of female boxers The context of Rahimi’s rise to Olympian notoriety is extreme. Her embattled home country still reels from a tug of war between Western democratization and Eastern religious fundamentalism – mainly from a sect of Sunni Muslims who call themselves ‘Students’ or the Taliban. The Guardian suggested in March 2012, that President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai tried to pacify the Taliban by approving a Shariah ‘code of conduct’. It was drafted by the Ulema Council of clerics, chief intermediary between the Afghan government and the Taliban. It includes guidelines for and thus lends validity to beating one’s wife. Karzai reasoned that this code of conduct is merely pro-forma Shariah instruction to Muslims. Planned laws in Afghanistan, to protect female civil rights, are being bartered for ways to appease these terrorists, and the Afghan constitution, which provides equal rights for men and women, is defied. Meanwhile, last week, a woman was executed before 150 men perched on the side of a hill in Afghanistan. They cheered her attackers, praising the “mujahideen”, a name that The Taliban also call themselves. Ms Rahimi hails from this violent warscape, and her family has received death threats over her pursuing sport. She is perceived to have triumphed over this extreme oppression, and with other members of the ‘Boxing Girls of Kabul’, has been training 3 days a week at the Ghazi stadium in Kabul, where women were publicly executed by the Taliban as spectator sport in 1999. Is it any wonder that Sadaf Rahimi is quoted, “I’ll fight proudly for women and Afghanistan.”. She acknowledges that there is no future in female boxing in Afghanistan and wants to be a journalist and go to university after the Olympics. One of her teammates has expressed a desire to become a lawyer to criminalise people who take bribes and break laws. Their very aspirations have been made possible by the Co-operation for Peace and Unity, who in 2007, set up the team with their coach, Mohammed Saber Sharifi, a former professional boxer and advocate of Afghan women’s rights, under its Fight for Peace project.

Fighting for peace seems paradoxical at best, yet boxing as a vehicle for empowerment and activism has political precedent. Last week, at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, as part of the Cultural Olympiad series, ‘The Brown Bomber: A Dance Suite that will Knock You Out’ was performed by students from Hackney’s Haggerston School and the Bridge Academy, via the Hackney Music Development Trust. It was an awesome Jazz dance rendition of the 1938 match between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling at New York’s Yankee stadium and was sponsored by BBC Radio 3, PRS, and NMC Recordings. There was a Q&A afterwards with Choreographer Sheron Wray and Composer Julian Joseph, interviewed by Kevin LeGendre. According to Joseph, Joe Louis stood for democracy in an age of Nazi Fascism in Germany and violent prejudice and segregation of African Americans in the US. Ironically Joe Louis, came to represent a concept – democracy – that bypassed him and his community in America. Joseph cited chapter two from ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’, entitled ‘Mascot’, which sums up Joe Louis as a role model for youth on that basis. Joe Louis’s opponent, Max Schelling, from Germany, was also manufactured to represent Fascism, which was an actual fallacy. In fact Max & Joe cultivated a close friendship. Max became a very successful business man, President of Coca Cola in EastGermany, and helped Joe financially at many junctures in his life. He was also pall bearer at Louis’s funeral.

“Being in battle together binds you in ways you can’t understand”, clarified Joseph.

Choreographer Sheron Wray described how the regime of repetition, common to dance and boxing training, encourages “being at home within one’s own body”. How badly do women need to feel such comfort – east and west alike. Wray also referred to the rhythm of the footwork on the floor of the boxing ring as holding the memory of the African drum – the beat of call and response as integral to activism for slave communities in neighbouring plantations during the dreaded pre-Civil War South. I believe that the idea of people fighting each other for freedom is illogical. However I cannot deny the heritage and power of ‘boxing’ to engage people into a belief system involving their own empowerment, overthrowing their oppression. I feel torn by this precarious subset of philosophies, and compelled to drill down and distill to some sort of universality…..

DV8’s gamechanging production ‘Can We Talk About This’ recreates part of the debate between Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz at the Rosenkrantz Foundation: ‘Is Islam a Religion of Peace’. At that debate Nawaz proclaimed,

“”I came to the conclusion that Islam had been hijacked and abused and politicised by something….. that owes more to post WWI European fascism than it does to the traditions of Islam…”

Is Sadaf Rahimi a champion of women’s rights, redefining female bonding in sparring sorority; especially in the context of the Taliban’s fascism and the ‘undeclared war on women’ summed up by Trevor Phillips? I’ve initiated a series of workshops, leading to a flashmob, which is a pep rally to cheer on Sadaf Rahimi to fight for women. I will also use the exercise to pick up where EVAW was betrayed by LOCOG and propose to distribute the literature that has been omitted from the London 2012 Olympics promotional material. I will viral coverage of the event,through the networks established and will be developing a radio programme to broadcast at Reel Rebels Radio in Stoke Newington: ‘Wildcard’. I am focusing on the sporting event and my flashmob response as an extension of Augusto Boal’s ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ and his idea that politics is the sovereign art. I am also pitching to Code of Spring to develop a flashmobility app specific to female safety and community, using the flashmob as a platform for a prototype. I hope to contribute to a creative & cultural scaffolding, to support development of legal frameworks to which the Crown Prosecution Service pledged support in its ‘Violence Against Women‘ Strategy and Action Plan 2008.