In Pictures

The Afghan girls with silver swords

Students of the Shaolin Wushu club show their Wushu skills to other students on a hilltop in Kabul, Afghanistan. Image copyright Mohammad Ismail/ Reuters

Led by 20-year-old Sima Azimi, the Shaolin Wushu club practises on a snow-covered mountaintop to the west of Kabul.

Developed from ancient Chinese martial arts, the sport of wushu sees these young women moving fluidly, slicing the air with silver swords.

Sima Azimi, 20, a trainer at the Shaolin Wushu club, shows her Wushu skills to other students on a hilltop in Kabul, Afghanistan. Image copyright Mohammad Ismail/ Reuters
Students of the Shaolin Wushu club climb a hill as they arrive to practice in Kabul, Afghanistan. Image copyright Mohammad Ismail/ Reuters
Sima Azimi, a trainer at the Shaolin Wushu club, and Shakila Muradi, show their Wushu skills to other students on a hilltop in Kabul, Afghanistan. Image copyright Mohammad Ismail/ Reuters
Latifa Safay (right), Hanifa Doosti (centre) and Suraya Rezai (left), students of the Shaolin Wushu club, take a selfie before practicing on a hilltop in Kabul, Afghanistan Image copyright Mohammad Ismail/ Reuters

After learning the sport in Iran, Sima won medals in competition and says: "My ambition is to see my students take part in international matches and win medals for their country."

Despite the popularity of martial arts in Afghanistan, women's sport is severely restricted.

All of the women in the club are Hazara, a Dari-speaking, mainly Shia group. They have generally more liberal social traditions that allow them to practise sports outside the home.

Students of the Shaolin Wushu club, practices in Kabul, Afghanistan. Image copyright Mohammad Ismail/ Reuters
Hatifa Rezai , a student of the Shaolin Wushu club, is reflected in a mirror as she adjusts her scarf before her exercise in Kabul, Afghanistan. Image copyright Mohammad Ismail/ Reuters
The girls sit in a circle on the floor Image copyright Mohammad Ismail/ Reuters

In addition to the regular dangers of life in Kabul, these women face intimidation and abuse. One member, Shakila Muradi, says: "There are many people harassing us, but we ignore them and follow our goals."

Sima Azimi, a trainer at the Shaolin Wushu club, talks with her father Rahmatullah Azimi, in Kabul, Afghanistan Image copyright Mohammad Ismail/ Reuters
Sima Azimi (left), a trainer at the Shaolin Wushu club, eats lunch with her students at a restaurant in Kabul, Afghanistan Image copyright Mohammad Ismail/ Reuters

Sima has been teaching in Kabul for about a year, training at the club's gym with her father.

This gym has a large poster of stuntman Hussain Sadiqi, a Hazara martial arts champion who fled to Australia to work in film.

Her father declares his pride in his daughter. "I am really happy that I helped, encouraged and supported Sima," he says.

Students leave after an exercise at the Shaolin Wushu club in Kabul, Afghanistan. Image copyright Mohammad Ismail/ Reuters

All photographs by Mohammad Ismail