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Tackling Her Own Glass Ceiling

Farida Azizova kicks down gender barriers, literally, every day. Azizova is a taekwondo champion from Azerbaijan, a country situated between Southern Europe and Southern Asia. Years ago, Azizova began taking taekwondo lessons as recommended by her doctors. Her doctor suggested that she do sports for at least a couple of months to help her blood flow. After a couple of months, however, Azizova did not stop practicing taekwondo.

Azizova’s coach, Sabuhi Zulfuqarov, recalled, “She got very involved and started considering taekwondo not [just] for health purposes but as a professional career.” While this was an exciting journey and discovery
for Azizova, many people in her family and her community had negative feelings about the career choice. Azizova explained, “Due to psychological pressure put on my mother by relatives and neighbors, she would frequently tell me that I had to quit, that I was a girl and I was already healthy.”

Though her family supported her recovery and use of the sport as a healing activity, it seemed to be unable to support the transition of taekwondo from therapy to career. This negative pressure from her family and neighbors did not stop Azizova, though. She soon proved herself to be a competent and talented competitor. Azizova remembered, “After my first wins, all the problems I had faced – all the words I heard from society, from relatives and neighbors that girls shouldn’t do sports – started to subside. I could see the attitude change in their eyes and hear it in their words.”

Many girls often feel discouraged by the gender norms that tell them they cannot or should not do sports. Azizova recognizes that her experience can help other girls: “There are a lot of girls who are facing the same challenges that I faced. I want to tell them: Don’t be afraid! If you really want to, and work hard on yourself, you will be able to do it.”

Azizova is currently working with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on the Youth for a Better Future campaign. This campaign has set 17 goals which are designed to change the world in the next 13 years with regards to gender equality, health care, and education. Azizova acts as a role model for the campaign, inspiring young girls to pursue their dreams just like she did. She urges girls to pursue what they are passionate about no matter what other people say. As part of this campaign, Azizova also developed a video encouraging all young people to stand up against inequality.

Featured Image by Peter Harrison on Flickr
Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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