Pakistan is a country where women’s participation in sports has been relatively limited due to cultural and societal norms. The lack of resources and funding for women’s sports is a major hurdle, women athletes have often underlined the incidents of gender-based discrimination and harassment that discourage women from participating in sports.
However, in recent years, Pakistani women have broken through these barriers and have excelled in various physically challenging sports. From fencing to weightlifting, from mountaineering to figure skating, Pakistani women have proven themselves to be fierce competitors, defying stereotypes and expectations and have become an inspiration to many. This week You! has highlighted few women athletes who have carved out a niche in some of the most demanding sports out there. Read on…
The brilliant horse riders:
The participation of Pakistan’s women’s polo team in the Women’s Tent Pegging Grand Prix in Jordan in 2022 was a historic moment, as they became the first women’s team from Pakistan to compete in an international polo tournament. The team consisted of three players and one reserve to showcase their skills on an international stage.
In addition to the polo team, Aisha Nadeem, Pakistan’s first female jockey, is another inspiring figure in the world of sports. Despite facing opposition and criticism, Aisha pursued her passion for horse racing and achieved success in the field. Another inspiration is Alishba Mohsin, who has made history by becoming the first Pakistani female apprentice jockey at the age of 18.
Despite not being a popular sport in Pakistan, there are still passionate women working to promote gymnastics in the country. Among them is Maryam Keerio, recognised as Pakistan’s leading gymnast. Maryam has represented Pakistan in international competitions since 2010 and has earned several medals in regional games, like the South Asian Games.
Unfortunately, the Pakistan Gymnastics Federation has been unable to provide sufficient training facilities and coaching for female gymnasts, which has hindered many talented girls from pursuing this sport and achieving their full potential.
The fierce fighters:
Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a physically demanding and challenging sport that requires a high level of strength, endurance, and skill. Despite the challenges, there are several Pakistani women who have made a name for themselves in the sport. Anita Karim is one such fighter, who has won multiple national and international titles in MMA. She started training at a young age. Another distinguished fighter is Ayesha Ayaz, who made her international debut as Pakistan’s youngest taekwondo practitioner (at the age of eight) and clinched a bronze medal for her country at the seventh edition of the Fujairah Taekwondo Open Championship, in 2019. These women are paving the way for others to follow their dreams and succeed in traditionally male-dominated sports like MMA.
The swift swimmers:
The world of swimming in Pakistan has been led by some impressive women athletes who have made their mark on international stage. Rubab Raza was the first-ever female Olympic swimmer who represented Pakistan in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Anum Banday followed in her footsteps in the 2012 London Games, breaking Pakistan’s record in the Women’s 400m Individual Medley. Today, Pakistan has a new crop of talented female swimmers who made waves at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England. Jahanara Nabi has already set multiple national records in Pakistan, and this is her first time competing in the Commonwealth Games. Bisma Khan won the silver medal at the 2019 South Asian Games in Nepal and also represented Pakistan at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
An exceptional performer:
Pakistan’s Ice Princess, Mallak Faisal, a 12-year-old figure skater from Dubai, has made history by not only introducing figure skating to Pakistan but also by winning the first position in the Basic Novice Girls II category at the 24th International Eiscup Innsbruck 2019 in Austria. Competing in the Basic Novice Girls II category, she showed off her skills and won the hearts of the audience and judges alike. Her achievement is all the more remarkable given the lack of facilities and resources for figure skating in Pakistan.
The super-smart skiers:
When it comes to skiing, Pakistani women are making a name for themselves on the international stage. Anmaar Habib made history in 2002 by becoming the first Pakistani woman to compete in any international ski event. Meanwhile, Ifrah Wali made waves when she won the Giant Slalom event at the inaugural South Asian Winter Games in India. She continued her success by winning the event again in 2011 at the South Asian Games, this time beating her sister, Amina, and an Indian competitor. Amina Wali is also a talented alpine skier and the first woman, along with her sister, to win an international medal in skiing for Pakistan. While skiing is still developing in Pakistan, these women are breaking barriers and paving the way for future generations of Pakistani female skiers.
The badass players:
Some of the prominent female football players in Pakistan include Hajra Khan, who has been playing football since childhood and has been the captain of the national team, since 2014. Other notable players include Abiha Haider, a defender who played a key role in Pakistan’s victory against Maldives, and Zulfia Nazeer, a midfielder known for her quick thinking and passing skills.
Nadia Karim and Maria Khan are two of the most well-known and accomplished female football players in Pakistan. Nadia Karim, a midfielder, has represented Pakistan in numerous international tournaments, including the SAFF Championship and the Asian Games. She has been an integral part of the national team and has helped Pakistan win several matches.
In 2018, Maria Khan became the first Pakistani woman to score a hat-trick in an international football match. In January 2023, Maria Khan’s stunning free-kick for Pakistan against hosts Saudi Arabia in their Four-Nations Cup match made her an overnight sensation in Pakistan, after the clips of her goal were widely shared on social media. The attention it has received has brought the women’s game in Pakistan into the spotlight and put a sharp focus on what the team can achieve.
The tough riders:
Asma Jan and Kanza Malik made history by becoming the first women to represent Pakistan in an international bike race at the 2021 UCI Road World Championship in Flanders. The cycling team comprises six members including Zainab Rizwan, Sadaf Furqan, and Kaukab Sarwar. These exceptional athletes lead ordinary lives as mothers, homemakers, and working professionals, but when cycling calls, they switch to athlete mode, displaying qualities such as perseverance, courage, and determination.
The fearless fencer:
Fencing is a lesser-known sport in Pakistan, and women in the country are making efforts to leave their mark in it. Among them is Aisha Muhammad, who is a national-level gold medallist and a national team member of the Pakistan Fencing Federation.
Despite the accomplishments of female fencers like Aisha, fencing is still not a popular sport in Pakistan, and female athletes face many challenges. One of the most significant obstacles is the lack of resources and training facilities. However, despite these hurdles, some women are passionate about fencing and are promoting the sport in Pakistan.
Lift it up:
In recent years, there has been a notable increase in female participation in tough sports like weightlifting in Pakistan. Rabia Shahzad, a three-time national champion, set a world record in the 52kg weight category at the 2022 World Powerlifting Championship in Trnava, Slovakia by lifting a total of 267.5kg.
In 2015, an all-women’s powerlifting team from Pakistan participated in the Asian Bench Press Championships in Oman, with Twinkle Sohail becoming the first Pakistani woman to win an international gold medal, followed by Sonia Azmat and Shazia Butt in the 63kg and 84kg categories, respectively. The success of these women has been surprising to many, challenging the notion that Pakistani women cannot excel in sports like powerlifting.
In a historic feat of mountaineering, two Pakistani women achieved a remarkable feat by conquering the 8,611-metre high K2, the world’s second-highest peak. Last year on July 22, Samina Baig and Naila Kiani both reached the summit, with Samina becoming the first Pakistani woman to achieve this remarkable feat. Samina is no stranger to breaking records, having previously become the youngest Muslim woman to climb Everest in 2013, and the first Pakistani woman to scale seven summits in seven continents within a mere eight months. This celebrated climber from the remote Hunza valley is an inspiration to many young women and is actively empowering them to pursue their dreams in this male-dominated sport.
On May 14, 2023, Naila Kiani made history by becoming the second Pak istani woman to climb the 8,848-metre-tall Mount Everest - the highest mountain in the word situated in Nepal.
The author addresses social and political issues. She tweets @zaraahmedH and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org