Afghanistan’s women’s soccer team played its first international match against Pakistan’s women’s soccer team in Islamabad. A spokesman for Pakistan’s Football Federation, Akbar Wahidi, said the match was intended to “promote soccer on either side of the border.”
The Afghan team captain, eighteen-year-old Shamila Khostani, told the British Broadcasting Corporation, “When I was a child, I always wanted to be a good football player. But unfortunately, under the period of the Taleban, I couldn’t play football or any sport.” The women footballers trained at Kabul’s sports stadium, where the Taleban once conducted public floggings, amputations, and executions. The team’s coach, Abdul Saboor Walizadah, said parents of the young women at first did not want their daughters to play soccer. Now, he says, they are very supportive.
There are now some five-hundred registered women soccer players in Afghanistan and the sports popularity among girls is growing. In July, eight girls’ teams competed in a day-long tournament in Kabul. “It shows progress in the country,” said thirteen-year-old Mahlia Mahmoodi, one of the participants. “When we play football it’s like serving the country and shows that girls in the country can do just the same things as boys,” she said. Sixteen-year-old Zainab Fakori says soccer “means for me, I am a liberated girl and it means we can do anything we want.”
In its latest report on human rights, the U.S. State Department says that many Afghan women in urban areas are making progress. But women in villages and rural areas still face pervasive human rights violations, including domestic violence, forced marriages, and honor killings. And Islamic extremists continue to murder women in journalism, government, and other professions. Girls’ schools have been burned, and teachers and students murdered. But Afghanistan’s young women remain determined. Maryam [MAHR-yahm], a high school student, hopes to be a doctor someday. “If the girls don’t get education, then who will build the future of Afghanistan?” she says.
Erica Barks-Ruggles, U.S. State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, says the U.S. stands with women who stand up for their human rights:
“ We want to work in partnership with those in government and civil society, the business community and everyday citizens working to build respectful, peaceful inclusive societies that respect the rights of all their citizens.”
“We recognize,” says Ms. Barks-Ruggles, “that women’s rights are also human rights.”