Client news   |    August 22nd, 2021

WOMEN IN FEAR

The situation in Afghanistan is a real human tragedy and nobody can fail to be moved by the daily chaotic scenes we see on our TV screens at Kabul Airport as thousands try to flee the country.

The focus at present must be to save innocent people’s lives but already there are signs that the return of the Taliban will destroy the societal advances made by women and girls in the past two decades.

In our society women are not precluded from pursuing any opportunity and the growth of women’s football in England has been spectacular in recent times and this will only improve in years to come particularly now that the Women’s Super League is to be broadcast by Sky TV this season.

Until the dramatic events of the past weeks, Afghanistan was allowing women and girls to be educated and to learn to play musical instruments amongst other things and listen to music, but this will now all be stopped.

The Afghanistan women’s team was set up by Khalida Popal. Last week she closed the national team’s twitter account for fear she would be identifying past or present players and avoid them being targeted by the new regime. The players have been told to close their social media accounts immediately also.

Khalida and others formed the very first Afghanistan Women’s Team in 2007. They love their football and felt they were making a difference and empowering women as well as inspiring a new generation of female players. They won their first international match 5-0 and have played many more international matches since. They sang the national anthem with pride and emotion at their matches. The Taliban has regularly condemned the existence of the team as openly flouting religious beliefs associated to Islam.

Commenting on the situation she said, “I encouraged women and girls across Afghanistan to stand up and be bold and to be proud of playing football but now I am telling them to take down any photos or images, close their social media accounts and keep quiet about what they have been doing”.

Khalida has received many messages from those who love their football so much that they are frightened and fear reprisals for having played football and championed women’s rights and having criticised the previous Taliban regime for not allowing them to do that. They fear a return to being prisoners once again in their own home.

Khalida is one of the lucky ones as she now lives in Denmark having fled Afghanistan in 2011 and seeking asylum in 2016. When the Taliban ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, women were precluded from leaving their homes unless being accompanied by a male relative. They were not allowed to be educated and were forced to wear a full body and face covering burqa. Punishments and beatings were the order of the day for those who defied the regime.

Khalida has called on FIFA and the International Olympic Committee to show support and protect those women players now under threat in Afghanistan, but the reality is there is little they can do against a state machine.

It is such a sad situation. My granddaughter plays for a girls’ team and loves every minute of it and as well as that girls and women are the equals of boys and men in our society which is how it should be and that must never change.

Peter Varney - Chairman, Integral Sports Management.

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