Teenage Afghan girls practice Chinese martial arts

On a snowy mountaintop to the west of Kabul, a group of Afghan girls practise the flowing movements of wushu, a sport developed from traditional Chinese martial arts — stretching, bending and slashing the air with bendable metal foil swords.

Martial arts of all kinds are popular in Afghanistan, but only for men. It is very hard for women and teenage girls to practice the sport, or any other sport, for that matter.

“I am concerned about the security of my students because they are developing day by day. As you know, we are living in a country where there is stupidity going on, there are people who might oppose women improving themselves, but I love to fight against such stupidity and go ahead (with the wushu training),” said 20-year-old wushu teacher Sima Azimi.

She took up the sport in Iran, where she fled with her family to escape conflict years ago. There, she won medals and certificates in competitions.

She has been teaching in Kabul for about a year, encouraged by her father.

The Shaolin Wushu club is in a part of Kabul that is home to the capital’s Hazara ethnic community.

So far, all the girls in the club are from the Persian-speaking, mainly Shia group who have faced a series of bloody attacks claimed by Islamic State militants over the past year.

Their generally more liberal social traditions give more room for girls to move outside the home and practise sports. However, Azimi’s wushu students say they still receive taunts and harassment.

Sima Azimi’s father, Rahmatullah Azimi says he hopes to see more girls from other ethnic groups join the club.

His worries, he says are offset somewhat, by the joy he feels seeing Sima train other girls.