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British Fencer Leads Initiative to Engage Muslim Women in Sport

A fencing coach from Darlington, North East England, is leading a pioneering initiative to use fencing to engage Muslim women in a physical activity and break down barriers.

“It’s something that has really opened my eyes and given me an insight into the challenges facing these women,” Beth Davidson, who makes a living as a fencing coach in Darlington, told The Northern Echo.

“Their beliefs mean they have to stay covered, and that can make engaging in sport difficult, but fencing is perfect – because you have to be covered, including wearing a facemask.”

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Davidson’s project, On-Guard For Women, started in 2019 before COVID-19 pandemic. She hopes to reap fruits after the lockdown ends.

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She works closely with a group called Muslim Girls Fence, set up by British Fencing and buoyed by a grant from Sport England’s “This Girl Can” program.

“It’s some of the most rewarding work I’ve done, because fencing is traditionally an elite, white, male-dominated sport,” says Beth, who volunteers as North East Region Fencing Development Officer.

“I’m determined to follow it through, and I’m excited by the possibilities.”

Women Dreams

Around the world, Muslim women are defying cultural barriers and stereotypes to compete and excel at the highest levels of sports — in football, fencing, weightlifting, basketball, ice hockey and more.

In 2016, 14 Muslim women medaled in the Rio Olympics, including American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first Muslim woman to represent the United States on the podium.

Her success has been spawning a new generation of female Muslim athletes eager to join the field.