Shahnaz Kamal is an anomaly in the male-dominated sport of boxing, especially in a country like Pakistan, which clings tightly to traditional roles for men and women.
Formerly a professional boxer, Kamal is the only female coach registered with the Pakistan Boxing Federation.
“My husband, taught me as his student. He showed me how to box,” she said. “I was a trained boxer. I learned boxing for two years, my husband gave me all of my training.”
Kamal is the only female 3-star national boxer in Pakistan as well as the country’s only international boxing coach. Assisted by her husband and brothers, Kamal roams the countryside in an old car equipped with a portable boxing ring to teach young boys and girls boxing techniques.
“We were the first in Pakistan’s history to get females into boxing,” Kamal said. “We started the first [training] camp in Peshawar. It is a matter of pride for Peshawar. After our girls won medals, one was from KP and one from Multan. We trained them and they received bronze medals at the South Asia games [for Pakistan.]”
Despite traditional misgivings in Pakistan about women in boxing, Kamal’s husband, Syed Kamal Khan, is proud of his wife’s accomplishments.
“My own wife boxes and coaches boxing,” he said. “This is a good path. Sports is a good path, it’s the best. We are on a positive path, Allahumdullilah (thank God), we are not on a negative path. There is no shame in it, or feeling bad about it. Nor do we care what other people think.”
The Kamals are disappointed with the lack of government support for women in sports. But their shared love for the sport keeps them going.
“If I had a say, I would train all girls in boxing for self-defense,” Shahnaz Kamal said. “Our society deals with a lot of problems concerning women. I am not sure why parents think that girls should not box.”
The Kamals say boxing is not going to make them rich, but they believe young girls should have as many opportunities open to them as boys.
And they say their mission makes them happy.