People of all classes and tribes in Afghanistan, torn between foreign invasion and regional terrorism, still take pride in mentioning the date when two torch bearers of Afghan women’s sports waved the national flag during the 2004 Athens Olympics. Robina Muqimyar and Friba Razayee. The former was all of 17 when she became the first woman to represent Afghanistan in the Olympics. She grew up training in the Kabul Stadium, notorious for the executions carried out by the Taliban. Running barefoot on broken concrete tracks, she was perhaps the first, who dared to dream beyond the hijab and the four walls of her house. Now, there are over 2,000.
After the Taliban regime ended in 2002, like Friba (judo player), hundreds of Afghan women started to believe… believe in some sort of equality, believe in a world beyond… most importantly, believe in themselves. Last June, in US-controlled Ghazni province, Afghan female high school students took part in a friendly volleyball match against the women stationed at the Forward Operating Base, Ghazni. The purpose of the match, as pointed out by U.S. Army Major Alex Dietrich was “to make sure that women understand that they can trust the coalition forces.” The match was actually a part of a monthly programme to strengthen the relations between the Afghan women and the coalition forces. While the coalition forces claim to be helping the Afghan women shape a future for them, the reality is much harsh. It was only last March that the forces met women from regions like Balish Kalay and adjoining areas. Women here mostly comprise widows who still live in constant fear of the Taliban, send their children to the bazaar for labour and have no real training.
Despite the hardcomings and obstacles, they have chosen the inconvenience of courage over the uneasiness of fear. On the rocky hillsides, 12 miles west of the Afghan capital, Mohamed Ajmal Barkazai has secretly formed and is developing the maiden women’s national cricket team. While men’s cricket has gained from huge levels of enthusiasm in the country, mainly fuelled by the 3 million refugees returning from Pakistan, the female version is just a year old and still blooming, though in constant fear of being crushed. For the Afghan Olympic Committee, which has been a pillar of support for these cricketing teens, the national women’ cricket team is the latest entry in a list of over two dozen women’s teams to be registered since 2002 across 21 sports.
The story of development of Afghan women doesn’t stay limited to the 22 yards, young women under the guidance of Tareq Shawl Azim, in Kabul, are trading their veils for boxing gloves. It is sheer delight to watch 30 determined young girls trying to break free from the oppression of the Taliban and box their way towards freedom. These girls practise in the dingy gymnasium of Kabul’s National Stadium with just four punching bags, of which three are home-made. Some of these young ladies are now hopeful of representing Afghanistan at London 2012.
Football surely is the world’s most popular sport. The Afghan Women’s football team which has been competing at the international level for the past 4 years still face death threats from the Taliban. Such examples of women fighting it out in this war-torn region to establish an identity of their own are aplenty and considerably growing over the last 9 years. Questions can be and have been raised over US’s participation in this development process. While the US Army blogs boast about its monthly and weekly programmes to engage the local women in different sorts of image building exercises, many complain that these programmes remain confined to announcements and pamphlets and never actually happen, except a few.
Goalless draws are still treated as victories. Participation on the international scene is still considered a historic event. To have a level playing field is still a distant dream for these women. Yet they have decided to break free from the chains of oppression, to run for glory and to play for pride.