People always asked Hegazeya Nasr why she is dressed like a boy, as she walked down the streets in her karate uniform. “I always used to hear people mocking me,” she says, “people even approach my brothers asking them how they allow their sister to ‘dress like a boy’.”
The 18-year-old has been practicing karate in her village of Quos in the Upper Egyptian Qena governorate for a year, and has earned a brown belt to show for it. “I’ve wanted to practice since I was young,” she says, “it’s what I love to do.” Hegazeya was told girls couldn’t practice karate, but she used her skills to persuade her family.
A participant of the UNFPA-supported Champions of Change program, Hegazeya says they were taught how to be assertive and eloquent. The Champions of Change program, developed by the EU-supported Plan International, seeks to combat gender inequalities and harmful practices through empowering girls and engaging boys. “I used these techniques to convince my father that this is what I want to do and what I’m comfortable with. “Try me and see what happens,” she told her father. Hegazeya also talked to her brothers one at a time. “They told me you’re a girl I’m worried about you, so I told them to let me do what I love because I want to achieve something in the future.”
Together with UNICEF, UNFPA is working with Plan International to boost gender equality and empower girls and young women to take leading roles and make positive changes in their communities. The global joint programme’s interventions include combating the harmful practice through building the capacity of medical personnel, as well as direct engagement with local communities and religious leaders. It also involves empowerment programs for girls.
Now, Hegazeya is aiming for the black belt and dreams of training other girls herself. She speaks of the many aspects in which karate changed her life. She explains that it made her active and healthy, but most importantly, it opened the space up for other girls to follow suit.
“Now any girl can do karate,” she says, “the entire village knows that it’s ok and they send their daughters to practice.” Karate has also boosted Hegazeya’s confidence. “I used to be scared of walking by a group of boys,” she recalls, “but now the boys don’t cross the line with me when they see me they know Hegazeya does karate.” Today, Hegazeya walks confidently to practice.