Incheon: As a child Maria Toorpakay Wazir had to dress as a boy to be able to play sport in Pakistan and now as the country`s number one women`s squash player she says there is still too much resistance.
Toorpakay, competing at the Asian Games in South Korea, vowed not to stop helping girls in Pakistan overcome discrimination and cultural obstacles even though she has received threats for her work.
"I feel that this is my responsibility," said Toorpakay after she was beaten by Hong Kong`s Annie Au in the women`s singles late Sunday. "I have to raise my voice for the other girls."
Toorpakay`s family comes from Waziristan, the lawless tribal area in northwest Pakistan bordering Afghanistan. Malala Yousafzai, the acclaimed teenaged activist for girls` education, comes from the same region.
As a child in the deeply conservative tribal area, Toorpakay trained and competed as a boy. Girls were forbidden in sport. Competing without a veil and in shorts was perceived as un-Islamic and the Toorpakays were threatened.
Toorpakay at first competed in weightlifting, frequently beating the boys at tournaments. But her father made her switch to squash, where her gender was discovered.
After being required to produce a birth certificate to play squash at the age of 16, the truth about Toorpakay came out and she was bullied by other players.
Toorpakay said Pakistan is changing -- but very slowly.
"Always there are people who do support this logic but there are people who still resist this logic," she said.
But Pakistan`s number one women`s squash player believes the tide cannot now be turned back. Toorpakay said her rise in international squash should be an example to other young women in Pakistan.
"I have to give them the same opportunity so that they become champions too," she said.
Toorpakay turned professional in 2006 and came third in the World Junior Women`s Championship in 2009.
"This is a beautiful sport, and today I feel that God has given me a chance to come up to such position," she said.
She vowed to help Pakistan`s women to emerge from the shadows through sport, saying it had helped her overcome her tough life in one of the world`s most dangerous regions.
"Squash is my lord and I`ve worked so hard to get to this position," she said.