Life for disadvantaged Muslim girls in India, says the WSJ, follows this pattern: stay at home, help your mother, and, hopefully, marry a man who can care for you. But some are actively finding, and fighting, a different way.

The Journal reports that, although new opportunities are opening up every day for young Indian boys, many young women still have a difficult time rising above difficult economic circumstances. There are a few jobs available to them, including working at nonprofits and teaching, but sports has become the preferred avenue out for some. "In sports, boys and girls are equal. Everybody is the same," said 16-year-old Sughra Fatma.

Fatma studies boxing at the Khidderpore School of Physical Culture in southeast Kolkata. She is one out of 47 students fighting under instructor Sheikh Nasimuddin Ahmed, who treats his female boxers just as he does the boys. In a country where gender roles remain strictly defined, the boxing club offers a rare refuge where gender does not matter. Women who are typically told to cover up are asked to wear shorts, not to titillate the men, but to grant them greater range of motion for fighting.

The young women see boxing as a possible way to support themselves. Those who do consistently well in competition might be able to land a scholarship for college, or even a spot on a sports team with the Indian railway or police force, coveted positions that come with a job, a pension, and subsidized boxing trainers and facilities.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone supports such ambitions: Professional boxer Razia Shabnam says when she first started training, people would approach her on the street and try to get her to stop. Some parents discourage their girls from boxing because of its effect on future marriage. "The problem is people think that it's an injurious game, especially for girls," said Shabam. Who cares if a man breaks his nose? But if that happens to a woman, she "can't get married."


Of course, the reality is that most of the athletes are unable to make money from fighting. The competition is fierce, and so far, no one from Ahmed's club has made it to national level. Fighters like Mary Kom (shown at left), a title-holding boxer from Manipur, India, are few and far between. But Simmi Parveen, a 12-year-old member of the boxing club, still dreams of being the next Mary Kom. "This is an addiction for me. I will achieve something," she said. "When I'm somebody I wouldn't have to go and look for a partner. Suitors will come themselves to talk to my brother and father for my hand. That's why I want to stand on my own feet and do something."

A Fighting Chance [Wall Street Journal]