Inspirational Women: Leila Malki (PLE)

Growing up in Palestine, 19 year-old Jumping athlete Leila Malki has had to travel up to eight hours each weekend, passing several checkpoints to Jordan, where she has access to suitable training facilities.

Image Copyright: FEI/ Richard Juilliart

The month of March is known internationally as Gender Equality Month and this year’s theme – to #EmbraceEquity – calls on everyone to do their part to improve gender equality.

One key way to #EmbraceEquity is through allyship, because change can only happen when people actively promote gender equality and equity through supportive and collaborative relationships.

In this first edition of the Gender Equality Month series, the FEI Against All Odds Award 2018 winner tells us who has been her greatest advocate and what they have done to support her sporting career...

"I began riding when I was five-years-old in the occupied West Bank where I have lived all my life. 

In Palestine, there are unfortunately many physical, social and cultural obstacles for women who want to practice sport and who want to make a name for themselves by competing internationally. So you won’t be surprised to read that there are many people who have tried to put me down and discourage me from doing what I love, which is to ride horses and compete with them.

But my father Ra’id Malki has always been my greatest supporter and he’s been by my side from when I started riding to now. Whenever I’ve faced a challenge, or if someone has put me down or tried to stop me from achieving things, my father has always said, “You can do it, Leila!” 

When I have travelled abroad for a competition, my father has been the only one to come with me. I have no trainer or support team. It is always just been my Dad. 

I am lucky, because not all women in Palestine have the support of the male members of their family. And many girls and women who face opposition when they want to practise a sport are often just told to stop. They don’t have anyone to encourage them to keep going. 

There have been many times when I have wanted to just give up. But my dad said this to me, “You are going to do this, Leila. A lot of women look up to you, and if you stop they won’t have a role model to follow. You will stop these girls from dreaming of a bigger life for themselves. So keep going for yourself and for these girls.”

And I’m so glad that I did! When I first started competing, I was usually the only female in the competition. But I broke the stereotype and now we see many more girls in Palestine doing sports and other activities that were traditionally thought to be just for the men. I’m so happy to see more girls riding, competing and winning now. 

My hope is that more girls can have the support of the men in their family because this is so important to their self-esteem. I would love to tell all men out there to support girls and women. Be by their side all the time, and try to communicate with women as much as possible because this will make your relationship with women healthier and better. 

And to all the young girls who want to ride horses: please know that you can do much more than people think you can do. Just keep going and don't care about what anyone says to you or about you. You are strong enough. Be confident and just go for whatever you want."