Fighting for women’s rights in Afghanistan

March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment


Shabnam, 17, from Kabul: Photo Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam

Six Afghan women are training up to attend the 2012 London Olympics to represent their war-torn country – a fact which would have been imaginable in Taliban times, when all sport for all women was banned. Several are female boxers, who train in Kabul’s main stadium, where women used to be publicly executed for adultery. In such a short space of time the symbolism of the change of use for this building cannot be exaggerated.

But, let’s not get carried away. It’s still unusual for women to take part in sport, to compete internationally in sport – and a violent sport at that.  Many rural areas in particular do not allow women the opportunity to participate in sport, even since the overthrow of the Taliban. Women are often restricted by conforming to strict rules of purdah, which means they don’t leave their homes very often.

So, victories are to be celebrated and held up as examples. Afghanistan’s first female cricket team was also formed in January, training in a park with high walls where men are banned. They know if they train in public, even covered in headscarves, somebody will disturb them and try to stop them

And it’s interesting to read of older generations of women taking an active role in promoting the younger ones. 17-year-old Shafika’s mother was the one who encouraged her to get into boxing: “When I started boxing I felt myself free and comfortable and happy. In the name of Afghanistan, we should have some women boxing and get some medals.

“We want the Afghan flag to come up at all the medal ceremonies for women boxing.”

Other sports women are hoping to compete in at the Olympics include taekwondo and judo.

For women everywhere, let’s hope these competitors get through the qualifying stages and make it to London next year, and earn the right to take some pride in their country on a global stage, after years of persecution and war.


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