Mixed martial arts is a growing sport in Pakistan and not entirely popular among women but this female fighter wants to change that.
Munawar Sultana is a Lahore-based MMA fighter who just won her debut fight and does not plan on stopping here; she's one of the few women who participated in the first of its kind, ‘Serai Fight Night’ held in Islamabad earlier this month — a fight she only found out about 18 days prior to the event.
Speaking to Images about how she started doing mixed martial arts in the first place, she shared, "When I was a kid, I wanted to learn karate and I never really had an idea about MMA. My brother told me to join a club for self-defense but that place didn't help me as such; I joined another gym and that's where my MMA journey began, as recently as February 2018."
When there's a will...
A practicing lawyer by day, Sultana does find it difficult to juggle the two sometimes but says it's all about time management.
"I completed my law degree first and then I joined martial arts but I make sure that I maintain a balance. I'm a lawyer by day and in the evening, I do my training. Advocacy is a full-time job but whichever law-firm I used to work at, I informed them beforehand that I won't be able to work after 4 pm because I have to do my MMA training afterward."
Recalling her debut fight and how she trained for it, she said, “Some of the SFN participants already trained at my gym so I told my coach to train me with them as well, even though I didn’t have any experience as such. Later on, my coach, Irfan Ahmed reached out to an opponent and scheduled a fight for me as well."
"'Serai Fight Night' was held by Zalmi TV and I had no idea that the event was on such a grand scale. I had no clue that I would get the chance to participate in this and by God's will, I even won. They treated us really well as well; we also went to Singapore for the One Warrior tournament earlier in the year, and we weren't given a very warm welcome. We got so much respect here.”
However, It goes without saying that many women in our country have to suppress their talents because of how unaccepting society can be, especially if that passion is for something that isn't considered a 'respectable' thing for women to do. Munawar too had to face her fair share of backlash when she decided to pursue MMA.
She shares that her family is still not fully on-board.
"My family never liked the fact that I did MMA and never thought it was a good thing. They've never supported me and they always wanted me to aim towards the judiciary, and obviously, that's in the pipeline too. MMA is something I'm passionate about, I never wanted to take it on as a profession, I just liked doing it but here I am."
"My family has always been against it because I'm a girl and within our society, girls are expected to adhere to certain norms. Even when I won this fight, my family wasn't very happy. They said that it doesn't look nice that a girl is fighting in the ring and half the world is standing in the crowd and clapping."
I feel for her when she adds that she's faced a lot of backlash from them and she strongly believes familial support and acceptance is crucial for budding athletes.
About her future plans, she revealed, “As far as my future with MMA goes, I want to make my name in the field and continue fighting. I'm just listening to my coaches right now and they have a better idea and letting them take the lead.”
She added that she's been thinking about teaching self-defense classes for women herself.
“Women should do more martial arts or at least learn the bare minimum so they can defend themselves. Everyone's talking about women empowerment these days but sadly, we still live in a society where women are assaulted by men," she said.
"I saw a post on Soul Sisters the other day about a case of domestic violence which made me consider starting classes so that women are at least able to fight back."
"A lot of women reached out to me on Facebook and showed interest in martial arts, but they didn't have the means to. Either their family doesn't allow learning from a man or has other objections, and that's where I want to help them. Women from other countries are so ahead of us, even we have the strength to excel in any field we desire, society should just be more accepting towards it."