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Breaking boards and stereotypes

By Oxfam
Members of Tajikistan’s National Federation of Taekwondo at practice. Photo: Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam

A partnership with Tajikistan’s national Taekwondo team recruits more girls to sports while challenging gender norms

Tajikistan's national Taekwondo team is ranked second in the world. Thirteen of their 54 world champions are girls, a gender split that even 10 years ago would have been unimaginable.

Oxfam, which began working in Tajikistan in 2003, partnered with the National Federation of Taekwondo in Tajikistan to help break down cultural stereotypes, and encourage more women and girls to participate in sports.

The project focused on three elements: improving hygiene and sanitation facilities in Taekwondo clubs, including designating separate changing rooms for males and females and installing showers; creating incentives, such as scholarships, so girls could attend training; and advocating for policies addressing gender discrimination.

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Anora, 16, is a black belt in Taekwondo. Photo: Eleanor Farmer/Oxfam

Anora, 16, and one of the members of the federation, believes that attitudes are shifting.

“Taekwondo is like life; we have ups and downs,” she says. “We have some difficulties; not in the way of doing the sport, but in society. We have some stereotypes and we have a big problem with the way of thinking … because sometimes people cannot understand that women should get a higher education or play sport and I think it is one of the big problems in our society.

“In Taekwondo in Tajikistan, we fight against this and we are against violence against women. We can change the minds; we can change the way of thinking of people and it’s very important to girls that we can share our experience. In our society, boys think that girls cannot do sports but from these programs and projects we have changed their minds and now a lot of people think that it’s normal for women to play sport. It’s changing; stereotypes are disappearing.”

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