Over recent years more and more young Afghan women are, against social norms, taking up football.
There are now hundreds of women players across the country and a keen national team…
Ghayor Waziri meet them in the capital, Kabul.
Inside Kabul’s football federation stadium, dozens of Afghan women footballers are practicing their skills.
Some of the players recently returned from a training camp in Japan.
Zohra Mihree is the chief of the Afghan women’s football committee:
“From 2006 up to now, the Afghan women’s national football team has conducted several different trips abroad, for training and matches,” she explains, “The team participated in the SAFF game in Bangladesh, and also in Pakistan and our team won third position in 2014.”
Currently, more than one hundred women football players are training in different clubs around Afghanistan.
It’s a huge jump. Several years ago there were only a few female players in the whole country.
Eighteen-year-old Rahima has been playing football for two years now.
She always dreamed of joining the national team – and now she is actually doing it.
“When I saw other football players on TV I hoped I could be a player like them one day. Then I found out Afghanistan had a women’s football team and was looking for recruits, so I joined,” says Rahima, “I hope one day I can be the best female football player in Afghanistan.”
In a conservative country like Afghanistan, it is not easy for women to play football.
Many female players have stories of being threatened or criticized for being a woman that wants to play sport.
University student Khatol Dawer, 23, a former player and now trainer, admits there has been a lot of challenges.
“When I started playing football in 2007, I faced lots of social difficulties, even when I traveled for training or matches abroad my family kept my travel secret from our relatives,” she says, “Sometimes I also received phone calls, people threatening me, saying that if I continued playing they would target me with an explosion and kill me…”
But Asadullah, a male player in the local league Kabul, is very supportive of women players like Khatol.
“I am very happy to hear about these women who are interested in doing sport, especially football,” he says, “I don’t agree that women should only be at home, doing housework. Women playing sport is not only happening in Afghanistan but other Islamic countries, it is very good that women here have the chance as well.”
Officials from the Afghan Women’s Football Federation say that despite the problems, they have had significant achievements over the past 3 years.
Receiving an international referee card and recognition in the past year, and the huge spike in the number of female players is a big win.
Shayista Sidiqee, chief of the women’s football referees association.
“Fortunately women’s enthusiasm for football has really increased,” she says, “Before we could hardly find a woman to recruit to the team. Due to social problems and threats most of the women and girls were not willing to join us. But now they come on their own.”
Still there are some barriers.
Most female players stop playing once they get married. But player Massoma Muhammadi says it doesn’t have to be that way.
After some convincing, her husband finally came around.
“When I got engaged my spouse knew that I was a football player. He told me that up to we got married that I could keep playing. Then after our marriage when he found out how much I love playing football, I convinced him, and he let me continue,” explains Massoma.
Captain of the national Afghan women’s football team, Marina Aslamzada, says she is working hard to promote the sport across the country – such as open clubs for women who want to play football in provinces all over Afghanistan.
“We have clubs for those who want to join us and when they learn skills, then they can play in the women’s football league,” says Marina, “And from that league we select the best players for the national team.”
Across the country, Afghan women are kicking more and more goals.
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