Putting Qatar’s inspirational sportswomen in the spotlight with Qawiya
Text and images by
Adriane de Souza
Strong, the Arabic feminine adjective Qawiya, is the perfect choice for a project aiming to document and highlight the stories of women in sports in Qatar.
I come from an underprivileged neighbourhood and a family that was not well-off, so for us every dream seemed impossible. Coming from a generation of people who had to work hard to put food on the table, it was only with my father embracing football, that he was able to find a new life. Sports offered him an escape from generations of struggle — a new life, one full of possibilities.
For my father, it was the first time a family member was able to dream, and for me, it was a valuable lesson on the role sports could play in our community and society. The importance of staying connected to my roots, sharing the stories I captured with my relatives back home, did not leave me, and my personal experiences shaped every project I undertook.
My father would always tell me, “All of this is thanks to sports, how can someone not love sports?”, but one question remained on my mind — where were the women in sports?
This project is for every girl asking the same question, a small reminder that hopes to inspire girls and women alike to pursue their dreams and passion. With this photography series, I found an answer to my question, they are here, they are everywhere.
This is a project about passion, about fighting, resisting, dreaming — but most of all, about strength. I admire those who follow their dreams, and this is my tribute to them, to the women who represent something powerful, to my upbringing, my past and my father.
A project of firsts and a collection of stories, these incredible women are an inspiration to the next athletes in the country and a testament to the power of not giving up, of pushing past difficulties in pursuit of our dreams.
Here are the amazing sportswomen I photographed:
Boxer: Afaaf Alqorane
“It’s been my dream since I was young,” shares Afaaf Alqorane, the first female boxer in Qatar, as she welcomed me into her home.
“I used to watch Mohammed Ali’s matches, something my father found difficult to accept at the start, saying I was a woman, and that it was a tough and hard sport.”
But now things are different and Afaaf makes sure I photograph her using the gloves her father gave her.
“Boxing teaches me patience. It gives me a strong memory, mind and body strength, and calmness. It changes my life. With box training, you never make rash decisions and it helps with self-confidence. It also helps with sleep as well.”
Amal Mohammed Saleh
Amal Mohammed Saleh is a basketball player and the first FIBA female referee in Qatar. She has nine gold medals and her team won first place in the GCC. Coming from a family that is very involved in sports, she felt supported by them, as well as her teacher and coach.
At first, basketball players were not allowed to play the sport while wearing a hijab – a headscarf covering worn by many Muslim women – Amal shared with me. It took a few years for the rules to change and for her to be able to play with the team.
The few hours we spent together were enough for me to see a woman with a very strong plan for her future, someone with a clear vision of what she wants for women in sports and how she can create positive change.
Athlete: Mariam Farid
Mariam Farid is one of the first two women to compete in the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Qatar. It was also the first time a Middle Eastern country hosted the competition and she was able to be a part of that.
During my meetings with Mariam, I saw a determined and disciplined woman and athlete. She says she understands the responsibility she has on her plate representing women in sports in the region and that she wants to break barriers for the ones coming after her.
“It is a big responsibility for me to represent women not only in Qatar but in the region. ”
While sharing her goals and aspirations, it is apparent that she is inspired by her father’s dedication and strength.
And of course — I had to capture a shot of her sneakers with her initials!
Table Tennis duo: Maha and Aya
Maha Faramarzi and Aya Magdy Mohamed are table tennis players. They were both chosen to be a part of the first Qatari female team.
Maha started playing when she was 10-years-old, falling in love with the game more and more as her wins increased, and thus making her more competitive. She said she currently feels more confident than ever, especially because the whole team always has her back.
Sharing the importance of mental preparation, Maha explains how the game is not just a physical one, but a mental one.
“This game and everything that came with it had shaped my life and gave me so many good opportunities and a different perspective on myself that I will always be grateful for.”
From her achievements, perhaps one of the most notable ones for her is accomplishing the number one spot in West Asia.
Aya started playing when she was 8-years-old and as things gradually became harder, so did her eagerness to compete.
“My biggest achievement was being the first Qatari female table tennis player to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. It was a dream come true.”
Aya explains how she had to sacrifice a lot, practicing for long periods of time without being able to take a vacation in order to achieve her goals.
“Usually we train in a relaxed mode until we know that we have a tournament. Then the beast mode is on.”
For both Aya and Maha, their coach Suli played a pivotal role in their journey, and still continues to be a source of support and motivation.
Table Tennis: Nura Al-Abri
Table tennis was not Nura Al-Abri’s first choice. She started as a gymnast but after a while she felt like she needed to chose another sport and spoke to her mother, who recommended table tennis.
“The first time I played this game I fell in love with it and so I put it in my mind that I would become the best player.”
Nura told me she did her best to achieve her dreams with the help of her family, her coach, manager, and teammates. Now she has become a manager herself.
“At first I thought I couldn’t be a manager but somehow my mother persuaded me to do it so I could inspire others and share my knowledge about table tennis.”
Tennis: Mubaraka Alnaimi
After a visit by the tennis federation to her brother’s school at the age of 6, Mubaraka Alnaimi’s family signed up her and her brother for training — and she hasn’t stopped since.
After participating in the Asian Games she discovered a greater passion for the sport, improving, excelling, winning matches, reaching finals and getting titles. Many thought she would stop playing because she was a girl but she persisted and doesn’t see herself stopping anytime soon.
Mubaraka wants to play for as long as she can. She knows she is a good player and she is disciplined and works hard.
She has had to balance the training schedules and trips with school, which hasn’t been easy, but the training has helped her manage the pressure as well.
“I didn’t play a lot of matches because of school. It was a struggle to travel. I always travelled in the summer or winter because of holidays. But I try as much as I can to win matches and titles when I play these few tournaments. I give my whole power. I will give my best to be the best.”
The pandemic has made things harder for everybody but she keeps working hard and aims to be in the top 100 in a few years. Mubaraka also just participated in the Qatar Total Open 2021.
Photo: Adriane de Souza