Muaythai is a martial art and combat sport which stands on 5 pillars, Respect, Honour, Tradition, Fair-play and Excellence. The sport is governed by the International Federation for Muaythai Amateur (IFMA), the sole world recognised governing body for Muaythai in partnership with the World Muaythai Council (WMC) under patronage of HRH the King of Thailand. IFMA very much aligns itself with the fundamental principles of Olympism as stated in the Olympic Charter, particularly in recognising that the practice of sport is a human right and that every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport without discrimination of any kind such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, religion, national or social standing or any other status.
Muaythai is built on ancient traditions that act as a cultural foundation that are very much fostered as they are promoted. For IFMA, it means that ancient attitudes that treat violence against women and children as a norm cannot be accepted.
AT THE EXECUTIVE LEVEL
In 2002, the IFMA Executive Board made the important decision to use the sport and an art of Muaythai, that has dated back to a thousand years and continues to flourish today, to engage themselves publicly to revamp a male dominated federation and sport. The decision was made to break the walls hindering female participation in Muaythai and make a strategic plan for the gender gap which is caused by many barriers from the top to the bottom and vice versa. Decisions were made to change the IFMA constitution towards clear gender equality in both the participation level in the form of physical activity in the sport and in the top level decision making process of the international and national federations. Clear guidelines at every level in the Muaythai family were established to balance the participation of women and girls and to work towards all the roots of the problems in IFMA’s current and coming member federations.
In 2014 IFMA signed an important MoU with UN Women at the joint congress that took place in Langkawi, Malaysia. There, the IFMA Executive Board established clear guidelines in the cooperation with UN Women, taking into consideration that there is no universal approach, both for gender equality and also IFMA’s fight against violence against boys and girls.
Experts are regularly invited to share research and inspiration. IFMA also is in the process of establishing a coaching curriculum with the input of the IFMA partners, UNESCO, UN Women, Peace and Sport and Generations for Peace. It will be mandatory for all educators with access to students to teach on the cultural diversity, gender equality and understanding domestic violence in order to integrate these aspects both on and off the field of play.
IFMA continually works towards increasing female representation in the executive board of all national federations including its Executive Board, this has been put in place from 2006 onwards and today, in 2016, we have 2 continental female presidents, plus 7 female national federation presidents and more than 60% of the IFMA commissions have a female chair person. Ensuring that leadership positions in IFMA activities and events such as World Championships, Continental events or Olympic recognised events, will go to the qualified person regardless of gender mitigates gender biased at the executive level. It is essential for IFMA that the assignment process as much as the election process is fair, not on personal relationships but rather on experience knowledge and commitment. IFMA’s males play an important role in the gender equality problems, women alone cannot solve it, particularly in cultures on areas where men clearly dominate, it is IFMA’s responsibility to carry the torch together and it is a burden that is shared especially as it directly impacts our most important assets, our youth.
AT THE NATIONAL FEDERATION LEVEL
IFMA, Executive Board in line with IFMA’s strategic vision, fully understands that there is no universal concept, the general concept stays the same that every person male or female must have equal rights and equal opportunities as much as responsibilities. The right for education and participation in sport should not depend on whether you are born male or female and all IFMA stakeholders are in agreement with this and at the same time condemn and actively fight to end violence against women and children. IFMA supports and promotes these principles by creating awareness, using the power of sport, the voice and influence of the stars and the respect and influence coaches have on students to spread this message in whatever way to all those know come in contact with the organisation and the sport of Muaythai.
Understanding cultural differences is a vital part of IFMA’s ethics. IFMA has worked tirelessly for 3 years to ensure that Islamic women can compete and that clothing will not rob them of opportunity. While other sports may oppose this, IFMA has established guidelines and developed a special uniform for them in the spirit of Fair Play, which has now been applauded by the world sport community.
IFMA uses its male and female champions and their huge popularity to spread a clear message to promote ending violence against women and kids, gender equality, women participation in sport, and to remove misconceptions. This is a responsibility every IFMA athlete has to wards the present and future of our sport. IFMA promotes this especially in their local communities and through their youth programmes, conveying the message that change is needed and we must all do something towards it.
Clear goals and milestones are set and regions and/or countries singled out where clear results are required and timelines are given.
The following are a few examples amongst our national federations:
- Afghanistan: No reminder is needed on the suffering that the people of Afghanistan have gone through and still are today. Muaythai is a very established sport and the president of the federation is an Influential person. After 2 years of planning, promoting and strategizing, female participaton in Afghanistan has grown by 15% and the first female teams was send to the world competition in 2016. Female referee and coaching courses are held nation wide and the cooperation between males and females in the Afghanistan federation has spread to other sports, the same goes for many other Islamic countries like Iraq.
- Iran: Stepping back is not an option. In the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran, while in the past female teams have been sent new conservative leadership in the federation has stopped this development. To address this, clear meetings were held with sanctions ordered and as a result, leadership changes took place and from 2017, females will have the right again to participate in competitions. We must stand strong to fight for what is right.
- Sweden: Our Swedish federation has been an example of IFMA’s stand for social inclusion, in tackling the issues of refugees, especially females. No refugee wants to be one, but for sport participation, the matter is difficult, as they do not have a passport, or a place of social inclusion. Therefore, special training centres and promotions have been organised in conjunction with the Swedish Government, the Swedish Muaythai federation and Frysbox to tackle this problem especially for Islamic women, giving them a place where they can practice a healthy lifestyle.
- New Zealand: Domestic violence in New Zealand is a common and pressing issue, especially against young boys and girls. The New Zealand Muaythai Federation has been tackling these problems through awareness in identifying abuse and finding solutions; a close cooperation has also been established with the New Zealand government.
These are some of the examples of how IFMA works, through strong Executive level decisions and in making the implementation of social and youth development mandatory for all gyms within the national federation, as it part of the IFMA constitution. These are not requests; these are clear orders from the IFMA executive, as IFMA believes that being a recognised sport federation brings serious responsibilities towards society. As much as we need to think on the future of our sport, we must also think on the overall future of society at large.
Every national federation is monitored and will have to report to a special commission, which is chaired by members from our Ethics, Social Responsibility Commission and members of our Executive Board. The commission will also address matters on sustainability, which is also an important part of IFMA’s strategic plan for the future. New applicants need to clearly prove that they have this in place, in order to join the IFMA family.
The panel will evaluate the national federation on:
- The balance on genders in the National Federation’s Executive level
- The balance of genders within the athletes for national and international competitions
- The presence of a social program, for youth and social development
Each national federation will be evaluated, while outstanding federations will go into the running for the annual awards, the inactive national federations will get clear time frame to bring in change otherwise sanctioning will take place.
We believe that gender equality and ending violence against women and children can only be successful if we are united as one with every stakeholder in the IFMA family contributing to the cause.
IFMA Female Commission
The IFMA Female Commission is one of IFMA’s strongest bodies. It has done incredible work towards researching and raising awareness on unique issues. IFMA works with national federations with female issues, on an individual basis to ensure that the best solution, prioritising the athletes is reached.
The Female Commission is composed of:
- The Female Commission advises the Executive Committee of IFMA on questions relating to the development of women’s Muaythai.
- It is responsible for popularizing women’s Muaythai and may work with the Press and Public Relations Commission to accomplish this objective.
- It works in close cooperation with the Medical Commission and the Technical Commission of IFMA it will set up uniform principles for the development of Muaythai among women and it should also create conditions for the protection of women.
- It works in close cooperation with the Technical and Rules Commission it shall make recommendations for rules, regulations and procedures relating to women athletes and for the World Championships in relation to women athletes.
- One member of the Female Commission is selected to represent the Commission in the Executive Committee
Through the years
The IFMA Female Commission was established formally in 2010. At the inaugural meeting the attendees were asked what goals they wished the commission to pursue. The collective goals included: a support network for female athletes, better quality and anatomically suitable safety equipment, equality for athletes in such areas as medal ceremonies, ring use, experienced referees, going over the ropes the same as their male counter parts, change in uniform rules enabling suitable covering for Islamic athletes, equality in media coverage, training for female coaches and referees, training for male coaches on coaching female athletes, more female participants particularly for juniors, junior competitions to increase experience levels, and above all to be seen as athletes and not be defined/labelled as female athletes. Equality was what the female participants, athletes, officials, and supporters called out for.
The Female Commission set about achieving the goals set by the female and male members at the inaugural meeting of the Female Commission and subsequent meetings. The Female Commission has now been active for six years and in this time has achieved nearly all the goals that have been set thus far. Already we have achieved and demonstrated participant/percentage equality in the number of weight divisions offered to females and junior girls in the World Championships, the number of weight divisions available to women at elite games such as the Combat Games, the same rules for each gender within a sport E.g. number of rounds, rest period, protective equipment, quality of venue, training facilities, accommodation, transportation, exposure etc.
There are many future goals that the commission is striving to achieve as it works cooperatively across the globe in the years to come.
We currently have a Female Commission representative in over 50 of our member countries and are working to further increase this number. Not every national federation has a representative but the majority of those that do work to ensure they are taking our collective goals to their country and implementing changes as their national, regional and local levels. Many countries have set up national social media for their athletes and participants, the increase in both junior and senior female athletes has risen dramatically as a direct result of the hard work done by both the International federation and the Female Commission representatives working within their own countries.
The number of countries bringing female teams have increased dramatically over the last 5 years. This is indicative of our success. Two thousand and eleven saw 22 National Federations bringing female participants which has risen to 38 in 2015 a 57.8% increase, similarly the increase in junior female teams has risen from 7 to 18 between 2011 and 2015 a staggering 257% increase. A portion of this increase is due to the fact that teams like Iran are now able to bring female competitors because of the alteration to the uniform allowed by female participants in the ring, whether they are competing or refereeing/judging. The significant change in uniform allowances for Islamic women has allowed for women of all nationalities to compete regardless of their religion or the constraints placed on them due to religious rule in their country of origin. Understanding the socio-cultural constrains and gender norms that exist within cultures and the consequences for those who might deviate from those norms is an important issue that a number of our competitors had to face in the past.
In 2014 the Female Commission ran a seminar based around educating male and female coaches as well as female athletes themselves. The seminar covered sport psychology, sport physiology, muaythai competition and how it impacts specifically on the female athlete, and how female anatomy may impact on an athlete. An increase in need for training for female athletes and coaches is a continued goal that the Female Commission will persist with in the future.
The implementation of the position and role of a Female Commission representative into each National Federation has increased the number of females that have or have the potential to have power in decision making in each country.
Demonstrating females in sport in a positive and equal light was first highlighted in the advertising, campaigning and media coverage of the World Championships in 2014, Langkawi. Females athletes junior and senior including images of Muslim athletes were pictured in the promotion of the event, the finals covered by the media were representative of the male, female and junior divisions. This helped to create gender equality within the sport and media commentary.
In 2015 with the rapid increase in junior competitors new protective policies and procedures were initiated and put into place to protect the young girls at the weigh-ins and in competition and warm up areas. The safety of all female participants is paramount. Our policies are being further developed to include all aspects of mental, emotional, social and physical safety for female participants. This includes looking at possible places of interaction with other athletes, officials, facilities, and their environments.
IFMA continues to empower woman and girls as leaders and role models and advocate advancing women into leadership positions. The number of Female National Federation Presidents has continued to slowly rise over the last 5 years and the representatives on the executive board leads the awareness of equality in decision making by ensuring that females are given positions of power and respect on the executive board.
Recently in Hong Kong Female Commission representative Cori Chiu has implemented and initiative to increase participation for females by working with the national sports federation to trial Muaythai training and self defense in schools with the objective of being incorporated into the national school curriculum.
In Mexico the Female Commission representative is a strong advocate for female equality and educating the future generations by: creating programmes to educating the young boys that will become tomorrow’s men, challenging and reducing current stereotypes within Mexico, becoming a catalyst for the changes needed to reshape the existing gender stereotypes, and promoting peace using muaythai as a vehicle.
At the 2015 World Championships we continued our collaborative work with the UN Women, helping them to develop resources that will be potentially be used in working seminars with men and women to help break down the social constructs and cultural norms around violence against females. We had a large group of 50+ men and women from different nations helping to understand the culture of men training women in sport. The key focuses’ were: raising awareness of the need for equality, what it means and how our participants can help, educating male coaches, and combating violence and harassment against female participants.
Some of our future goals include raising awareness around issues such as the need for: Sport facilities that meet the needs of women; an increase in the number of women coaches, advisers and decision makers in sport at all levels; Education, training and development programmes that address gender equality; Nationally and internationally relevant information and research on women and sport; National allocation of resources for female participants and programmes; cross-cultural integration and education through our sporting communities; and Incorporation of the promotion of gender equality and sharing of good practices into national policies and programmes in the sport of Muaythai.
IFMA prioritizes the growth of female Muaythai as we believe it is foundational to growing our sport. Not only do we seek to raise more female Muaythai practitioners, we believe Muaythai has a lot to offer the female demographic, beyond competition, including:
- A strong fitness workout, as part of a healthy lifestyle.
- A tool for personal self-defence.
- A welcoming environment in the often male-dominated martial arts world
- A guarantee of respect as part of the Muaythai code.
IFMA’s Social Campaigns
IFMA’s very own Sport Is Your Gang initiative, under the patronage of Peace of Sport and also the winner of the 2014 Spirit fo Sport Award is IFMA’s biggest project yet, spread over 70 countries and rising.
SIYG targets youths from challenging backgrounds, encouraging them to take up Muaythai training and, through their participation in training and dialogue programs, to be inspired for positive self-development and a healthy lifestyle. Rather than belonging to a gang or participating in a violent lifestyle, the spirit of the project is that sport can become a family, a team and a community.
IFMA believes in the potential of sport, and Muaythai, in providing an alternative focus, and therefore a path away from such destructive activities. Training together gives youth the opportunity to build a healthy lifestyle, learn skills and self-defense techniques, gain self-respect and self-esteem, and importantly find a safe and trustworthy environment, building links with their peers and belonging to a community.
To read more on Sport Is Your Gang, please check out our reports here.
IFMA would like to highlight Sweden’s Frysbox project, founded in 2007 by two Swedish Muaythai champions, which successfully uses a Muaythai training and dialogue program in cooperation with the Fryshuset organisation, and which has agreed to be a guide for National Federations seeking practical help in building their own local “Sport Is Your Gang” projects.
PARTNERSHIP WITH UNITED NATIONS
A Memorandum of Understanding was signed in 2014 between WMC, IFMA and UN Women in order for the organisations to use their best efforts to collaborate for the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment, in particular in preventing violence against women and girls. This collaboration centers on awareness-raising and advocacy of the joint campaign among the member national federations, athletes, youth and other constituents.
You can find some of the press releases on IFMA’s cooperation with UN Women here:
UNITE TO END VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
(2016 –> 2014)
IFMA proudly signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation – UNESCO in 2016 in Bangkok Thailand. The cooperation will see both parties agreeing to use their best efforts to collaborate for the promotion of youth development and youth civic engagement, intercultural dialogue and peace building through all aspects of IFMA’s initiatives. The cooperation will move towards creating inclusive communities regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, mental or physical ability or any other basis. Additionally, the collaboration will include efforts to create a space for the historical narrative of women in Muaythai.
You can read some of UNESCO’s press releases on IFMA’s efforts here: