Introduction

Through their example, Balsam and Lulwa Al-Ayoub are pioneering the change they want to see: women working and excelling in the same arenas as men. They are professional fencers and two of the few women dedicated to professional sports in the Gulf region, where laws and tradition inhibit girls from competing. They are the model: successful, admired, able to fulfill themselves as educated and active women, mothers and world-class competitors. Through their example they are changing norms and laws paving the way for all girls to know that the sky is the limit.

To change the lives of Arab women, Lulwa and Balsam are using sport as a key strategy and themselves as beacons of hope, demonstrating a woman’s power. The sisters present a new concept of what girls can do through breaking taboos of confinement in the Gulf area. Women in the Gulf are not allowed to become professional athletes and in some countries in the Gulf they are not even allowed to play any kind of sports. While fencing, Al-Ayoub sisters are are literally “cutting through” society’s constraints. Becoming active in sports, girls will grow proud, strong, fearless and expressive no matter what their ultimate life’s goal.

In the Gulf, educated and professional women still face societal and legal obstacles that prevent them from achieving full emancipation. Women do not have access to the same rights and opportunities as their male peers who have the same level of education and qualifications; this is true for household decisions, political participation, access to the labor market and even to the sports arena. While there are some organizations addressing gender empowerment in the Gulf, most of them focus on Human Rights’ Violations -which constitutes only one basic component of women’s rights- and seldom address equal opportunities.

In Kuwait, where laws have been changed to give women more choices and equal opportunities, social values have remained the same and women have refrained from taking steps forward. A clear illustration the case of women’s voting right, which although granted in 2006 by law, has witnessed limited application as female voters voted for men only, as they did not trust female candidates with national assembly seats.

When laws did not consider female professional athletes at all, and the society frowned upon girls who worked alongside men and appeared in national media, two girls decided to become professional athletes, excelling in their sport and gaining wide media coverage to set an example for each and every Kuwait girl that has a dream of her own. Balsam and Lulwa Al-Ayoub are two of the three women dedicated to professional sports in the Gulf region and Kuwait’s only women fencers. As women and as athletes, the Al-Ayoub sisters are raising their swords for social change and gender empowerment.

Balsam & Lulwa are empowering women in the Gulf through a strategy based on three axes. First, through their success and excellence in their field, they are setting an example as role models for many girls in Kuwait by demonstrating that they can fight for their dreams; they are also mentors to aspiring fencers whom they empower to compete in the same arenas as men. Second, they are creating a new perception of women as leaders and trainers, as they train young boys and girls on fencing, and as they train adult males on leadership and training. Third, they are promoting sports among young girls in schools, in order to break the walls of women’s exclusion from sports. The Al-Ayoub sisters’ efforts will motivate and inspire girls to demand more space in all walks of life; this will ultimately result in getting the society used to seeing women walking untrodden paths. Serving as role models for other women in the region, Lulwa and Balsam are changing mentalities and showing women and their societies that there are many ways for active participation, while their own personal gate was sports.

Although there are very few CSOs in Kuwait, most if not all, are government controlled and funded. Al-Ayoub sisters realized that for their idea to succeed and spread they have to ensure freedom, independence and sustainability. They did not want to associate their entrepreneurial idea for empowering girls and women to traditional and conservative perception of CSOs in the region. To date they have managed to raise funds to sponsor themselves and their pupils. They themselves contributed and sponsored tournaments.

In contrast to other regional programs for women empowerment that use more conventional projects like awareness-raising, the Al-Ayoub sisters’ strategy was comprised of a set of modules: shattering social taboos pertaining to women’s participation in unconventional fields, instilling the notion of women as leaders and trainers, and breaking the walls that exclude women from sports. As athletes, Al-Ayoub sisters are concerned with spreading the fencing culture among the younger generation, advocating for professional women athletes’ rights and promoting social responsibility among athletes. The Al-Ayoub sisters believe that being professional athletes in a world of male athletes will open doors for other females to join all kind of sports and thus be empowered. Such breaking of taboos will prove that women can join any field and excel.

Gender empowerment has always been a controversial issue in the Middle East, and even more so in the Gulf Peninsula. The UNDP Arab Human Development Report (2005) is dedicated to Arab women’s role in the region, and insists on the fact that Arab modernization cannot progress without eliminating gender discrimination. Traditionally confined to the home, women now are venturing into worlds they had previously been ignorant of and have started to play active roles in society. Whether it is sports, economic contribution or political participation, female pioneers are paving the way into these fields. Gulf women are increasingly working alongside men in banks, universities and public offices, but age-old traditions, unconstitutional laws, and lack of public awareness about the role of women still hold sway. Women living in the Gulf countries (United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Oman) live in repression, unable to fight for their dreams or walk the path they wish for, particularly if it is one frowned upon by the society. While member states to the Gulf Countries Confederation (GCC) enjoy the highest per capita incomes in the Arab World, women’s rights in those countries have not been able to keep up with their economic development.

Gender empowerment has always been a conflicting issue in the Arab World, and even more so in the Gulf countries. Although women have recently started to play an active role in society and began to take hold of their lives, many obstacles persistently hinder their advancement; such as unconstitutional laws, cultural traditions and lack of public awareness.

This has been reflected in the treatment of women by these countries, where Oman was the first GCC country to grant women’s voting rights in 1994. Several countries followed, including Kuwait, which despite its image as being the most liberal Gulf country regarding women’s rights, only granted them the right to vote in 2006. Hence Saudi Arabia remains the only Gulf country that still withholds this right, although women fortunately are now being allowed to contest both as candidates and voters in elections for certain chambers in the Kingdom. In 2005 two women were appointed on the Board of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce in a revolutionary move that has motivated women across the Kingdom. Hence it is now commonplace to find female ministers, members of Parliament or university directors in varying numbers across the Gulf.

Education is seen to have been the initiation of women demonstrating their rights in the Gulf. Kuwaitis began to include girls in education as early as the 1930’s, and according to the UNDP Arab Human Development Report 2005, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE have a greater number of women registered in higher education than men. However discriminatory restrictions on women’s higher education in Kuwait were implemented during the mid-1990’s, where female students were required to have a higher GDP than men to be enrolled in certain faculties. This did not hinder women however, and they made up two thirds of the population in higher education and are graduating at a higher rate than men.

It is hence not surprising that women’s involvement in the labor force has also increased greatly in past years, especially in Saudi Arabia where it doubled between 1990 and 2003, yet still remains below 30%. Kuwait is recognized to have advanced faster, following its ratification of the Convention of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 1994, as in 2003 women already constituted 40% of the country’s labor force. This has allowed women to become a part of public life and take part in most activities in the country.

In spite of many attaining big achievements, women are still repressed by their own beliefs and traditions in Gulf countries. In Kuwait, all 28 women candidates failed to win a seat in the National Assembly in the 2006 elections, although women constituted 57% of the number of voters. In Bahrain, women failed to win any seats in the 2002 elections, although one women MP was nominated to the position. Many reasons could be given for these results yet a study by the Women Affairs Committee at the Democratic Arab-Islamic Wassat Society identified several key factors. These included the fact that women were not convinced of the ability of other women to run for public office; women’s lack of political awareness; the influence of religious leaders and conservative figures, adherence to rigid social traditions and more.

There has been a growing presence of civil society organizations advocating for women’s rights in the Gulf. However most of them tend to limit their program to a human rights framework.

The few initiatives concerned with human rights include the Kuwaiti Women’s Social and Cultural Society, the Bahrain Women Society and the Saudi Nahda Association. National activists have had a more impounding effect such as Rula Dashti, a successful Kuwaiti businesswoman who fought for women’s suffrage and presented herself as a candidate in the 2006 elections. Similarly in Bahrain activist Ghada Jamshir is lobbying for a reduction of clerical influence in family affairs. Of more influence however are the numerous businesswomen associations that aim to support female entrepreneurs and develop their skills to become part of the competitive Gulf markets. One of the most renowned in Kuwait is Khalida Ahmad al-Qatami a successful business entrepreneur. Many other success stories are starting to emerge like Saudi Mona Al Sulaymani, who heads the Kingdom’s largest foundation- the Walid Bin Talal Foundation.

Nevertheless, educated and professional women still do face social and legal obstacles that are preventing them from achieving full emancipation in the Gulf. In this regard, sports still remain to be a distant hope for many professional sportswomen who cannot get the government’s recognition for their achievements.

Traditionally sports in Gulf countries consisted of camel-racing, falconry and the renowned horse-racing breeding the world’s finest horses. Nevertheless, today the Gulf has increased its participation in modern sports with the establishment of many sports clubs. These clubs promote different styles of sports predominantly football, but with an ever-growing interest in alternatives such as table tennis, water polo and basketball. Kuwait alone has 20 sporting clubs as well as numerous youth centers and five separate women’s centers, serving around 8,000 women per month. There is also a centre for individuals with special needs, named the Kuwait Disabled Sports Club, and one of the pioneers in this field amongst the Gulf States. The Gulf as a whole has had increased participation in the Pan Arab Games, the Olympic Games and began to invest greater efforts into professional sports.

One of the sports that have recently been given more attention is that of Fencing. With its historical Arab origins, this sport greatly appeals to many of the Gulf countries, most of which have set up fencing associations in accordance with the International Fencing Federation. These include Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and even Saudi Arabia. Dubai has recently seen the spread of many fencing clubs that currently train 119 men and 22 women. However, some of these clubs are part of high-class hotels and thus only allow members to benefit from their availability.

Kuwait also has an internationally recognized fencing association, originally known as the Kuwait Amateur Fencing Association; the name has been changed to Kuwait Fencing Federation Yet up until now it still has not been able to nurture individuals that can attain levels of professional sportsmanship. Nevertheless this body is striving to better the standards of these sportsmen and attempts to organize national fencing tournaments with participation from many countries.

Women’s participation in sports in the GCC has come a long way, yet the present numbers of professional female athletes still remain unsatisfactory. In preparation for the Beijing Olympics Olympic committees were set up across all the nations to train sportspersons and fund their activities. Accordingly, the UAE, Oman and Bahraini women made their debut, while Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait still withheld this right, the latter claiming that men would have a better chance at competing. Although most of these countries provide women with the facilities to practice the sports of their choice, such as at the AlFatfat Club in Kuwait, their participation in national as well as international tournaments remains limited, even where in some cases women outperform men.

An even bigger obstacle facing the sportswomen of Kuwait, other than the persisting paternalistic mentalities, is that under the law the label “professional sportswomen” does not seem to exist. Nonetheless, the legal status of both sportsmen and sportswomen is clearly defined under International, European and Belgian National and Regional Law. Yet the Kuwaiti Fencing Federation does not exercise its role in providing a chance for women to represent their country abroad and raise their flags of victory. Women are not receiving the same efforts invested in men and thus are not able to reach their full potential, although they have the incentive to break all boundaries.

With the exception of a professional private for-profit horse-riding school for women, the female community in Kuwait is confined to performing sports in all female clubs with no foreseeable future as professionals. Female expats living in Kuwait also suffer the same injustice as they are not allowed into the private clubs to even exercise.

Sportswomen across the MENA region have progressed at different speeds. For example in Egypt, professional women wrestlers have begun calling for serious investment and funding. This stands in stark contrast to Kuwait where women cannot even carry the “professional sportswomen” status. Needless to say, sports still remain to be a distant hope for many professional sportswomen who cannot get the government’s recognition for their achievements nor the society’s recognition for their excellence. Apart from Balsam and Lulwa, there is only one professional women athlete in Kuwait, an equestrian champion who has established a profit seeking horse-back riding academy. The mentioned athlete is concerned with her sport and her business, and is not involved in political or social advocacy activities.

Having already faced the injustices and obstacles that hinder women’s advancement in sports, Balsam and Lulwa Al-Ayoub, two of the few women dedicated to professional sports in the Gulf region and Kuwait’s only fencers, have decided to change the future for other women. The Al-Ayoub sisters are exerting countless efforts to make the journey easier for the next generations of athletes; to enable Kuwaiti women to get their professional sportsmanship rights and to officially represent their country in the international arena. Moreover, Balsam and Lulwa’s efforts to empower women are not just confined to the sports arena, but in any field where women wish to venture.

For the Al-Ayoub sisters, fencing is more than a sport; it is a quest for professional sportsmanship rights and for women’s empowerment. Balsam & Lulwa empower women in the Gulf through a strategy based on three axes using the tool they master best: their swords. First; they serve as role models to other girls wishing to fight for their dreams, and provide mentorship for young girls who wish to become professional fencers. Second, they are creating a new perception of women as leaders and trainers, as they train young men and women on fencing, and as they train men in middle management positions on leadership and training. Third, they promote sports among young girls in schools, in order to break the walls and women’s exclusion from sports. The Al-Ayoub sisters’ efforts will motivate and inspire girls to demand more space in all walks of life; this will ultimately result in getting the society used to seeing women walking untrodden paths.

By competing in international tournaments, Balsam and Lulwa are showcasing women’s talent and strength to a society that has traditionally confined women to the household far from the arenas in which men work and compete. The Al-Ayoub sisters are also among the few Kuwaiti women entrepreneurs, having started up a sporting event management company under the name Touché to organize fencing training camps and tournaments. In addition to breaking taboos surrounding women’s public participation in sports and acting as role models for girls wishing to practice professional sports, the Al-Ayoub sisters have adopted two young female athletes and are inspiring them to change existing beliefs about barriers and limitations through fencing. Balsam and Lulwa are continuously advocating for “better and more equal” sports and increased opportunities for Kuwaiti girls. On a political level, they are lobbying with the Kuwaiti government to modify professional sports law which currently does not consider women as professional athletes and hence does not allow them to participate in championships under Kuwait’s flag. The sisters have guaranteed that any profit from Touché will be spent to sustain the initiative and increase the number of female athletes whom they will sponsor and support.

Since 1995, when as mid teen-agers Balsam and Lulwa Al-Ayoub were introduced to their lifetime passion, fencing has become metaphor. Kuwait has watched the girls grow up into international stars, and the society started accepting them as national and international press attested to their proper behavior as young Kuwaiti women. This has been vital to their success in changing the mindset of a tradition-bound society.

In 1995, Balsam and Lulwa became the first members of the Alfatat fencing club, a club which started with a core group of 20 girls. Half of these original members dropped out while the other half continued to fence as amateurs, the only exception is the Al-Ayoub sisters, who kept on fencing even after Alfatat club closed down, and later on became professional athletes.

After the fencing club’s closing, Balsam stayed in Kuwait, searching for ways to pursue her sport in a country where no other club was open to the idea of fencing. Due to her unyielding conviction in the importance of sponsorship for athletes, particularly in the case of a costly sport such as fencing, Balsam put all her time and effort into approaching corporations, not paying heed to social disapproval that extended to her own father. She reaped the fruits of her attempts when a leading telecommunications company Zain generously offered to sponsor a fencing competition for girls. Both Balsam and Lulwa continue to receive funds which they use to spread the fencing culture in Kuwait, and are also starting to use non traditional fundraising techniques to realize their vision. For example, after their travels they hold shopping bazaar at their home, where mothers comfortably bring their daughters. As the mothers and daughters shop the pretty gifts they learn about the sports and life-skills programs the sisters offer and can sign up.

After the Alfatat club’s closing, Lulwa moved to Spain for her study, and was able to find a club where she can fence. Within two years, Lulwa won a pair of silver medals for the club of her university, Universidad de Salamanca, and kept on competing restlessly despite little support from the public, as she always remained a foreigner among Spaniards. For Lulwa, winning was more than advancing as an athlete; every time she won she proved to other girls in Kuwait that women can succeed in a man’s world, and every time she got a medal she proved to the whole world that Arab women are resourceful and powerful.

The sisters then started their struggle to get their licenses as professional athletes at a time when Kuwaiti laws did not consider that women can get into professional sports.

Having for themselves experienced the many obstacles, political, legal, financial and cultural, that lay in the path of professional women athletes in the Gulf, Balsam and Lulwa Al Ayoub realized they had to use their experience to bring about greater social change.

To date Balsam and Lulwa have achieved relatively high rankings in regional and international competitions, and continue to fence professionally. The Al-Ayoub sisters have capitalized on their media visibility and their voice as professional athletes to advocate for the causes they believe in and to inspire other women to reach for the stars.

The Al-Ayoub sisters have also organized the first amateur fencing competition for women in Kuwait in 1995 to motivate other women to compete professionally. They have also used their own funds to organize and sponsor two editions of a fencing tournament for children under 12 years, under the name Al-Ayoub Fencing Cup, in 2007 and 2008. The sisters are coaching and providing mentorship to two young girls to become professional fencers (Mariouma Al Fahd and Dalal El Shaye’); as well as increase the girls’ exposure, taking them along to fencing competitions abroad and teaching them to become more self-reliant. The young fencers have undergone a dramatic transformation, as they have become more opinionated and more mature than their classmates, whom they now encourage to equally pursue their own dreams and throw caution of social pressure to the wind. Balsam and Lulwa will provide mentorship to 10 more young girls in the next 5 years. The sisters have also started a pilot program introducing fencing as an extracurricular activity in one school; the school provides space for training and Balsam and Lulwa donate the fencing equipment and gear that the students will use. The program introduces fencing as a sport and as an art, and trains girls and boys together. This way they are teaching Kuwait’s next generation that women have the right to participate in all areas of society. The pilot will be replicated in three other schools in Kuwait during the next five years.

As they train younger fencers, Balsam and Lulwa do not only focus on fencing as a sport, they also see the training as a tool whereby they can teach girls to reach their full potential. Fencing makes girls believe in themselves and teach them perseverance. The fencing training teaches girls to find their talent and to excel in what they would like to do, whether that is sport or any other activity, not necessarily fencing. Dalal Al Shae’, one of the girls Lulwa and her sister have adopted athletically feels a great sense of achievement as she entered competitions after receiving training and getting exposure to the world of professional fencing through the Al-Ayoub sisters. Dalal now feels proud of herself as she reached beyond what she dreamed of and topped her families’ expectations success.

Moreover, the Al-Ayoub sisters have managed to bring increased respect for Arab female athletes, by participating in an unprecedented initiative in the Arab World. Balsam and Lulwa, who are two athletes in their early thirties and late twenties, delivered a training directed to senior men occupying managerial posts in the corporate sector, as part of their collaboration with one of their sponsors. The training, “From Championship to Leadership”, introduced in a non-traditional way the notion of leadership by building on Balsam and Lulwa’s triumph over the hurdles they faced in their competitions and how those can apply in the corporate world.

Balsam and Lulwa are currently laying the foundations for a sports academy that will cater to the needs of the female athletic community in Kuwait, both Kuwaitis and foreign nationals, thereby addressing the unfairness that Kuwaiti and foreign women are traditionally subjected to. They are also advocating for the amendment of the professional sports law to consider female athletes and to grant both male and female athletes more comprehensive support. Balsam and Lulwa are also organizing the first international training camp where 9 professional women athletes from all over the globe will come to work together and share their success stories, as fencers, mothers, writers and individuals who excelled in leading a balanced life as athletes and women. This camp aims to encourage women in the Gulf to venture into professional sports.

As part of their social responsibility as professional athletes, Balsam and Lulwa organize and participate in thematic events promoting causes they believe in. Among those events is the “Sword for Peace” initiative in Lebanon, where the fencers have worked with Lebanese youth to instill the notion of making peace not war, by using sports as an alternative means of self expression instead of the prevailing use of violence and by proving that true power lies in strength that is withheld and redirected towards a good cause.

Al-Ayoub sisters are replicating their model of girl empowerment in Dubai, and are constantly networking with activists concerned with women empowerment in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries as they are invited to participate in events and conferences concerned with women’s rights. Al-Ayoub sisters wish to apply their formula for gender empowerment through sports in all countries of the region, and share their experience with others who wish to apply using other tools for gender empowerment.

To change attitudes towards women in general and women athletes in particular, Balsam and Lulwa are continuing a number of advocacy activities. To date they developed a strong relationship with the media and succeeded in appearing as “successful role models” in all national and Gulf television talk shows and programs as well as being featured in newspapers. Moreover, they have also succeeded in attracting the media to the tournaments they arranged for young girls and boys; thus preparing the society to accept change and to accept women as athletes.

Known to Kuwaiti media and to social and athletic circles in the Gulf as “the Al-Ayoub sisters”, Lulwa and Balsam have built their dream together.

Remembering how they started fencing, Lulwa and Balsam always say that the sword chose them before they chose it. It all began when their mother dropped them at Alfatat, a women’s sporting club in Kuwait to choose a sport, where they were approached by a lady who was forming a female fencing team for an upcoming competition. Thirteen years later, Balsam and Lulwa are proud fencers and strong women. Fencing, being more of an art than a sport, involving a wide range of tools and techniques, has taught the Al-Ayoub sisters perseverance, leadership skills, improved their ability to focus on what’s important in life, equipped them with analytical thinking, strengthened their decision making abilities, and improved their ability to utilize time most effectively. Their constant travels and tight schedules have equipped them with the ability to adapt to any environment and conditions, and opened them up to diverse cultures and peoples.

Balsam and Lulwa complement each other; they share the same vision and perseverance and have been able to coordinate their strategy even at a time when they were miles apart, living on different continents.

Balsam Al-Ayoub

Balsam grew up in an athletic family that believed in sports as tool for self development. She and her sister were encouraged to pick a sport from an early age by their father, a devoted football player and swimmer, and their mother a physical education teacher. In addition to constantly encouraging their girls to pursue a sport, her parents took her and her siblings on road trips to Eastern and Western Europe, to more and less privileged places, so they could learn to appreciate diversity and broaden their horizons. Her mother was an athlete. Although she grew up with a conservative background, she traveled in the 60’s and 70’s, studied abroad and competed in basketball and volleyball – the Kuwaiti society then encouraged women. She became a supervisor to school sports programs and scouts and took her daughters with her on weekends to different cities and sports camps, as she believed that sports develop character.

Balsam was a president of her high-school student council, and initiated a number of activities of which the proceeds went to disabled children (among them the first charity market in the school). Since she was in University and until now, Balsam has designed some object or another, currently she is designing fashionable sports wear to make sports appealing to young girls.

Balsam has a degree in Physical Education and was always an active student on campus. Being talented in fundraising since a very early age, Balsam approached leading Kuwaiti companies in the telecommunication sector to sponsor her and sister after they took the first step in registering as professional athletes. Balsam’s move was a bold one, for not only did she approach sponsors with a purpose they were unaccustomed to –that of sponsoring athletes- but also, she stood in the face of social pressure from her friends and her family which viewed her fundraising strategies as too bold, as it was “unfit for a Kuwaiti young woman to beg for money”.

One winter they were short on sponsoring, she and her sister bought traditional crafts from Bangkok and Istanbul (where they were on a break between competitions) to sell them in Kuwait. The proceeds of the garage sale later on covered the expenses of two of their competitions.

Balsam has more than once ventured into new fields such as fundraising, event organizing, lobbying and training, thus bringing wider recognition to women in a culture where even educated women choose to be homemakers and stay away from the labor market. She has also joined the ranks of the few women entrepreneurs in Kuwait, by establishing with her sister their own sports events management company, under the name “Touché”.

Balsam lives in Kuwait with her husband, who has supported her professional fencing career for nine years. She balances her life as a wife, mother to two year old Adnan, and her career as a professional athlete.

Lulwa Al-Ayoub

Lulwa grew up in an athletic family that believed in sports as tool for self development. She and her sister were encouraged to pick a sport from an early age by their father, a devoted football player and swimmer, and their mother a physical education teacher. In addition to constantly encouraging their girls to pursue a sport, her parents took her and her siblings on road trips to Eastern and Western Europe, to more and less privileged places, so they could learn to appreciate diversity and broaden their horizons. Her mother was an athlete. Although she grew up with a conservative background, she traveled in the 60’s and 70’s, studied abroad and competed in basketball and volleyball – the Kuwaiti society then encouraged women. She became a supervisor to school sports programs and scouts and took her daughters with her on weekends to different cities and sports camps, as she believed that sports develop character.

Lulwa was a member of her high school student council and was also an active student on campus in Salamanca University. Lulwa volunteered during university as an interpreter for a group of deaf students, and learnt sign language for this purpose.

Lulwa has a degree in Linguistics and Translation and is back in Kuwait after spending nine years in Spain and a year in Hungary. As a fencer, Lulwa has thrived both academically and culturally in Spain, a country where she landed at the age of 17 as a part of the first group of Kuwaiti girls sent abroad to study, without knowing either the language nor the culture. From this first group of Kuwaiti girls who were sent to study in Spain, Lulwa is one of the only two students who survived and got their degrees, and the only one to pursue postgraduate studies among the group.

Lulwa has more than once ventured into new fields such as fundraising, event organizing, lobbying and training, thus bringing wider recognition to women in a culture where even educated women choose to be homemakers and stay away from the labor market. She has also joined the ranks of the few women entrepreneurs in Kuwait, by establishing with her sister their own sports events management company, under the name “Touché”.

Lulwa has a passion for traveling that is rarely satiated, in her travels Lulwa made a number of international friends and was always an ambassador for Kuwait. Moreover, Lulwa always makes sure her trips serve a double purpose. In her travels Lulwa networks with athletes, activists and feminists from different countries in order to spread her message of change and learn from successful experiences. Lulwa’s passion for crafts and unusual objects inspired her to start a garage sale in Kuwait selling traditional crafts from Bangkok and Istanbul; the proceeds of the garage sale covered the expenses of two competitions in a season she and Balsam were short on sponsorship.

Lulwa thinks that though male athletes respect her as a professional fencer who takes her sport seriously, they feel uneasy towards a woman who does not fit the image of Kuwaiti woman that they have in mind. In Lulwa’s opinion it is this uneasiness that keeps fellow athletes from supporting women athletes who bypass social taboos.