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'I learnt that women can do whatever they want' - How fencing is empowering young Muslim women to smash stereotypes

Fencing has predominantly been viewed as an elitist sport reserved for those from privileged backgrounds, but it is now being embraced by a generation of young Muslim women.

Muslim Girls Fence, which was set up by charity Maslaha and British Fencing, wants to change the image of the sport and transform their students' aspirations in the process.

"Fencing is a sport that we don't really associate with young girls, girls of colour, Muslim girls and we therefore use that to challenge the fencing stereotype," course leader Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan told ITV News.

The 10-week course, which runs in London, Doncaster, Birmingham and Bradford, is open to both Muslim and non-Muslim women.

The project hopes to equip the young sportswomen with a new narrative. Credit: ITV News

It's the second year Wapping High school in London has run the course and teachers like Hayley Charman have noticed big changes in those who have taken part.

"There are two girls in the workshop this year that may be the type of student that is very able, but would prefer to sit in the classroom or not to be noticed - the sort (who) go under the radar a little bit," she told ITV News.

"It has a real impact, not only in the sessions, but outside of the sessions in their learning and in their attitude to learning."

The project sessions also involve creative workshops for the students, ahead of the fencing, to explore identity and self-expression and also to tackle misconceptions that surround Muslim girls.

Course leader Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan said her students are smashing stereotypes of what it is to be a young Muslim woman. Credit: ITV News

"Muslim girls in particular face this double discrimination, faith, gender and often race as well, so the fencing is really a launch pad," Suhaiymah said.

"And the way they are smashing that stereotype they then talk about other challenges and narratives that they can smash."

The fencing classes are taught by Lucy Johnson who uses the sport to help the girls develop their own identity.

Fencing teacher Lucy Johnson said the sport's versatility is empowering. Credit: ITV News

"The beauty of fencing is that there are so many moves you can do you can find out what sort of style you like," she told ITV News.

"You can be aggressive, you can be defensive, you can do parries or lunges and all these amazing different moves and you can find your style for yourself.

"So in terms of empowering these women, they get to celebrate what makes them a fencer and they get to use that to fight - quite literally."

By tackling misconceptions that surround Muslim girls, the project hopes to equip the young sportswomen with a new narrative.

Twelve-year-old Sara said she had been transformed inside and out. Credit: ITV News

Students who have participated in the classes, like 13-year-old Areefa, said they feel empowered.

"I learnt that women can do whatever they want, be whatever they want to," she said. "It just feels great."

Twelve-year-old Sara said the lessons had given her "more confidence and strength and power" - while Muskan, 13, said she doesn't want to stop at 10 weeks.

"When I fence, I feel good. I'm learning something new that I didn't know before," she said.

"I'd love to continue to fence after that, if I get the chance."