The Female Ninjas of Iran
In the build up to International Women’s Day on March 8 we look at the female ninjas of Iran, women who confound gender stereotypes. Feminism at work… now with added NINJA.
According to Iranian state-run Press TV, well over 3,000 women in Iran are training to be Ninjas. That’s not to say they’re doing wetwork on behalf of Samurai who’ve refused to get their hands dirty. They’re a more modern variant of the Kunoichi (female ninjas) of old. In classes that mix a bit of jujitsu with shuriken (throwing stars) and some seriously impressive gymnastics, a satisfyingly high number of Iranian women use martial arts as a means to express their strength and independence.
Iran’s laws are currently hugely restrictive to women. Considered inferior to men in all legal matters, women are denied equal rights in inheritance, divorce, marriage and child custody. Evidence and testimony given by women in court is legally worth half that given by a man. Girls younger than 13 can be forced to marry much older men if their fathers permit it. As late as December 2011, a judicial review determined that an Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned to death for adultery could be hanged instead. Well, yeah. That’s progress for you.
Hugely because Iran’s female literacy rate has increased over the last thirty years, Iranian women are now increasingly better educated and more empowered to challenge the gender inequality in their legal and social system. And challenge it they do. But these activists are harrassed by the government: Detained without trail, their campaign websites get blocked… the list of injustices goes on.
Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that the women of Iran are choosing to become Ninjas. Their exercise attire fits with social and legal requirements. They break no rules. But it’s a way for them to become strong – both phsysically and emotionally. Martial arts (and all sports disciplines) are a way to set oneself challenges and overcome them. With contact sports, you learn to fight, to stand your ground… to show confidence in yourself as well as courtesy and respect to your opponents.
We love these Reuters photos of the female ninjas of Iran, as taken by photographer Caren Firouz. These women are devout, they’re smiling, they’re working together.. and by God, they’re kicking ass.
If you’re interested in feminism and gender equality within a Muslim context, we hugely recommend you follow @RuwaydaMustafah on Twitter. She’s a British-Kurdish feminist Muslim with her finger on the button. You’ll find out all about the gender restrictions of dodgy regimes like Saudi Arabia, Syria and more…
All photos: Caren Firouz