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Afghanistan: Female Soccer Star Achieves Goals

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Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Six years ago, Shamila Kohestani of Afghanistan threw off her burqa and ran as fast as she could to escape a Taliban member who was whipping her because she was not wearing it properly. Today, Kohestani has another reason to run — she’s the captain of Afghanistan’s national women’s soccer team. She’s scoring goals and winning games for her country, as correspondent Omid Marzban of RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan reports.

KABUL, September 13, 2007 (RFE/RL) — Shamila Kohestani says she had just begun wearing a burqa when a Taliban member saw her and whipped her for not wearing it properly.

“I was out wearing a burqa, but because I had just started to wear it, I did not have the practice to cover all my body,” Kohestani says. “[The Talib] asked me why I had not covered the front part of my body. So he beat me and I threw the burqa off and escaped.”

Twenty-year-old Kohestani is the captain of the first Afghan national women’s soccer team. She and her 15 teammates traveled to Islamabad last month to play in a tournament held by Pakistan’s national women’s soccer league from August 16-24.

The Afghans won three of five games to find themselves in the final against a team from Karachi. Though they lost 1-0, they still consider themselves to be champions and a source of pride for their country.

‘A Name In The World’

“We Afghans are very proud today that our team placed second in this tournament,” Shafiq Hamidi, an Afghan refugee living in Islamabad, said shortly after the Afghan women lost their final match. “I always thank God, and I am so proud that now Afghanistan has a name in the world.” He continued by shouting, “Long live Afghanistan, long live Afghanistan!”

Having scored five of the Afghan team’s 11 goals in the tournament, Kohestani received more attention than any other player.

“The captain was the star of our team,” says Saboor Walizada, the coach of the Afghan women’s soccer team, in an interview with Radio Free Afghanistan.

The Afghan women often play their games with both long pants and long-sleeved shirts, regardless of the weather. They also often wear head scarves, especially when they play in Afghanistan. Women were forbidden to play football during the reign of the radical Islamic Taliban regime. Men were allowed to play, but at halftime the players and all of the spectators were expected to pray.

Studied Secretly

Kohestani studied secretly in a house in Kabul during the rule of the Taliban, when girls were not allowed to go to school. As a girl, Kohestani says she dreamt of going to a public school and running on a soccer field.

“I asked myself how long will I have to stay at home [for school], not go outside and not get [a real] education?” Kohestani recalls. “Then I was convinced that the situation will not remain as it is and maybe one day I will go to school, play soccer, and do whatever I like.”

Kohestani’s first dream — to go to a public school — came true in 2002 shortly after the Taliban was ousted by U.S.-led coalition forces. But she had to wait two more years to reach her second one, which was to play soccer.

In order to receive money from FIFA — world soccer’s governing body — the Afghan Football Federation had to promote soccer among women in the country. The job of hunting for female soccer players was given to Saboor Walizada — a former Afghan national player — who began his search in Kabul’s girl schools.

Hard To Convince Families

“I went in their classes, and they were very willing to join a soccer team,” Walizada says. “But to convince their families to let their daughters play soccer was the most difficult part of the job. Not every family I met agreed to let their daughter join my soccer team. Shamila’s family was one of them. So far, some 500 girls have gotten the chance to play soccer in Kabul and the three northern provinces of Parwan, Jawzjan, and Sar-e Pul.”

Since the end of the Taliban’s reign, there have been some slight changes in the lives of Afghan women, at least in big cities. But for most Afghan women the atmosphere is not as green and open as a soccer field.

“In a soccer game, Shamila is always less than 100 meters away from the goal, and she has a soft, green field under her feet,” says Fatema Hussaini, a law student at Kabul University and a women’s rights activist. “But in the game of gaining freedom, she and other Afghan women might be 100 years away from the goal, and the field is full of difficult barriers.”

(Radio Free Afghanistan’s Sayed Feridon Ibrahimi contributed to this feature.)

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Written by afghandevnews

September 13, 2007 at 1:19 am

Posted in Women's Rights

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