A former Afghan Football Federation (AFF) team captain that in 1993 played in the United Nations World Youth Cup tournament talks about her country’s struggle with terror attacks, family and a massive opium boom, which has evolved from traditional agriculture to the production of heroin.
Khalida Popal is now a member of the Stiftung Wasserfreunde Akademiker Kampf – International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (ICHRK). Her full article is below:
The tough, young Afghanistan of today has survived a decade of brutal war and political instability thanks to the vast majority of Afghani women, who are ever more resolute in contributing to the nation’s development and security.
As we all know, in October 2002, Taliban fighters stormed the Afghan Defense Ministry in Kabul and executed many female Defence Ministry staff members. These horrific crimes, which have not been publicly acknowledged, underscored the threat to women in Afghanistan, but also gave rise to large-scale and escalating public efforts for women’s rights.
Despite the deep scars of these shameful days, women today are equal citizens of the state. With international support, these women’s campaigns achieved gains that have yet to be fully realized in terms of political participation and equal rights in access to education, employment, health care, and even basic social functions.
In 2004, at the age of 18, Khalida Popal became the first Afghan woman to be awarded a national sports medal, a bronze medal for football, at the Youth Olympic Games. She played for Afghanistan’s national team, and was a captain of the team. At the same time, a young girl living in southern Afghanistan reached out to me through email to ask me to let us know that Khalida’s team had won the gold at the Youth Olympic Games in Athens. It was very exciting to receive the confirmation of these results; we celebrated, and shared this news with our parents. Then we had a serious conversation. The conversation went like this: “Our daughter has just won a gold medal, and someone from southern Afghanistan asked me to relay this news to our son, our daughter’s husband.” The conversation continued. I told them that the medal was awarded by the committee, not by them. “Yes, I know!” was the reply.
At that moment, the father of this young man reached out and broke his silence. He explained that there were two women who were making efforts to get the gold medal for our daughter, and he was apprehensive about his daughter giving up her wishes. “So the gold medal had not been won by our daughter, but by our son?” I asked him. I also asked him to tell me if he had any reason to believe that the silver medal we won was also awarded to one of the girls. He told me that there had been a misunderstanding and we all had understood each other correctly. Thank God for the advance of our youth.
Since that conversation, every day, I get calls and messages from Afghan children, young people, and their parents who have received congratulatory news that their mother or father is a medal winner. Although today’s Afghan girls and women are playing a much more prominent role in society and have achieved considerable gains, no one can claim total victory. Even if the Gold Medal for Girls sports tournament in Iran were awarded to all girls participating in games held in Iran today, the question of gender equality would still remain. Even if our daughters could get married, even if our daughters could have their faces blurred when taking selfies with school students, still the boys of Afghanistan would still remain the perpetrators of this violence. The Afghan girls today are still facing abuse and intimidation in their own home.
Only the courage and commitment of our boys could make them truly understand the importance of treating other children like gold-medal winners.