Afghan woman defies patriarchal rules to run first fitness club for women in Herat

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HERAT, Afghanistan, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) — In a traditional, patriarchal society like Afghanistan opening a fitness club for a female would be full of challenges but Setara Karimi not only faced these daring challenges, but successfully open the first-ever such center in her city.

Setara, 28, a native mainly to the western Herat province, said she spent six years in neighboring Iran to gain the skills necessary to run a fitness club in Herat city, which borders Iran and lies some 640 km west of the Afghan capital city of Kabul.

When she returned home after years of living as a refugee in Iran, she decided it was time to make her dreams come true.

“It was my main ambition for years to open the Khadija-tul-Kubara Fitness Club for women and girls, in my city, despite my family being firmly against the idea,” she said.

“I did my best to convince my family and I could finally win their support to reach my goal of running the fitness club, and earn an independent livelihood,” said Karimi, adding around 280 participants, mostly schoolgirls, are trained by three experienced trainers at classes in the center established one year ago.

The number of members of the private fitness club, she described, were constantly on the rise, as it is gaining rapid popularity, with a high number of enthusiasts refuting the stiff rules of tradition and cultural barriers.

Afghan households are not ready to allow their daughters to attend male-run fitness centers in the province.

“But, when I built the club, female enthusiasts started repeatedly visiting me to ask when the club will be open for business,” said Karimi. She added that winter breaks are a good time for women to join the fitness club as local schools and universities are off in the country during the winter.

“Women playing or learning sport outside is still frowned on by some sections of society, however the situation is slowly changing and the people’s ideas have become more progressive, compared to the last five years in Herat,” said Karimi.

The young woman had spent 300,000 afghani (about 4,400 U.S. dollars) to establish the center one year ago, and now earns 17,000 afghani (250 U.S. dollars) from members’ fees.

One of the club’s trainers, Aziza Ramesh, who usually trains the attendees from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. everyday in the club, told Xinhua that the core of her aim was to help women’s empowerment, as well as their fitness and weight loss.

“The traditional Herat society still doesn’t welcome such a sports trend for females, and most religious scholars oppose the continuation of our work, but I will spare no effort on my way to reach a just and balanced society,” said Aziza.

Although women’s status has positively improved in Afghanistan after the ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001, Afghan women, mostly in the countryside, are still facing a variety of problems, including violence.

Statistics released by Afghan officials revealed that Herat has been one of the province in which women faced a massive amount of domestic violence in 2017.

Setara is not the only brave woman who acted in defiance of the patriarchal society to own a fitness club in her native province.

Tahmina Mahdi Nuristani was another woman, who bravely opened the Blue Moon Fitness Club for girls in Kabul last year.

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