“Karate is for boys. No girl should ever practice it or even watch it on TV,” Hegazaya, a young woman from Egypt, was always told whenever she asked to take part in karate training.
Growing up in a rural community in Upper Egypt where social norms and gender stereotyping influence every aspect of girls’ lives, Hegazeya was denied many of her rights. She was also prevented from taking part in the sport she is most passionate about – karate.
“I was never convinced that being a girl means that I should never practice the sport I’m passionate about, but I had to obey my parents and respect our social norms.” says Hegazeya.
Stereotypes hold girls back
Her parents were driven by the fear that if Hegazeya challenged gender roles it would put men off from proposing to her in the future. She was unable to change her parents’ minds until she joined Plan International Egypt’s Champions of Change group as part of the Empower Civil Society to Combat FGM project.
One day I will be an Olympic champion.
“When I heard about the Champions of Change group, I immediately joined it. Through my participation in the activities I reconsidered many of the concepts I was indoctrinated with. I understood what gender and gender roles mean and gained more self-confidence,” says Hegazeya.
Armed with new knowledge and effective communications skills, Hegazeya was able to convince her parents that she should do karate. However, she still did not have the acceptance of her community.
“Every time I went to training I used to wear a wide dress over my karate training suit as my community wouldn’t tolerate seeing a girl in a training suit," says Hegazeya.
Smashing stereotypes and gaining confidence
The more Hegazeya participates in Champions of Change sessions, the more confident she becomes. She also becomes more determined to pursue her dream of becoming a karate champion and has already gained her blue belt.
She says, “With each new achievement I have made in Karate, my community has begun to perceive and value me differently and I now walk proudly in the street wearing the training suit. I have become the person I always wanted to be.”
As a result, Hegazeya has become a role model to many girls and young women in her community. She is a very ambitious athlete and believes the sky is her limit. “One day I will be an Olympic champion,” she says.