Kicks, fists, and grunts – oh my! Through Taekwondo, karate, and boxing, 16 young female athletes, trainers, and coaches from Tajikistan also tackled heavy topics related to gender-based violence (GBV) in an exchange program sponsored by State Department’s SportsUnited division. In coordination with U.S. Embassy Dushanbe, SportsUnited brought this delegation of teenage girls and trainers to the United States for a martial arts-themed program that focused on how sports can, in addition to building confidence and physical strength, be used to address GBV head-on.
For ten action-packed days in the Washington, D.C.-area, these young athletes took part in a series of activities on the global lessons of Title IX (the landmark U.S. legislation that afforded equal opportunity for women in sports and education), human rights, and the need for inclusion and greater access to sports for all. They teamed up with American peers in disability sports activities and took part in community service projects to encourage respect for diversity and volunteerism. They also focused on identifying personal strengths—in sports, academics, and the community. “I did not start doing Taekwondo for my looks or because of the fitness fad, I did it to become stronger as an individual, to gain prominence as a female athlete in my country, and to win,” said one participant.
Whether they were sparring in a karate session or learning about health and wellness in a classroom, the participants focused on GBV as the cross-cutting trend throughout the program. They also described their strategic plans to address GBV back home to make a positive social change and build peace. As was expressed by one of the karate instructors leading a workout, “The empowerment of one gender does not mean the suppression of another.” By the end of the program, the girls felt even more accomplished and motivated to pursue their newfound plans through the use of martial arts when they returned to Tajikistan.