In a small one-room gym in the tiny Egyptian city of Beni Suef, 36-year-old Sabah Saqr trains young men and boys in the art of boxing. Saqr who began boxing by accident, does this twice a week. While it’s not unusual for women in the capital city of Cairo to coach men, but in a provincial, agricultural heartland a 60 miles away, gender stereotypes and tradition tends to limit their roles and potential.
In a statement to Reuters, Saqr said, “I started boxing by accident. I didn't used to like it because I was worried about my face, about being hit.” She was spotted by a coach who was impressed by her strength and energy. She went on to compete and won several championships and more than 10 medals before she decided to pass on her expertise and begin coaching two years ago.
Today, she is a working mother with one son, and she trains around 20 men between the ages of 18 and 30.
“At first, this situation wasn't accepted. As you know, in Upper (southern) Egypt, it was hard (to coach) in sports like boxing. In addition the fact that it is a girl doing the training made it a bit harder,” she admitted to the news organisation. However, she believes her no-nonsense approach helped her gain respect and trust.
“For a woman to train a man isn't a very good thing in Upper Egypt,” Amr Salah Eldin, one of Saqr’s students told the organisation, reluctantly admitting that Saqr’s “experience and excellence” coupled with the fact that Beni Suef didn’t have too many boxing coaches, made him give her a try. Today, he can say with conviction that he’s enjoying his training.