The United States is so modern, that we don’t have the same issues other countries do, issues we have probably already gotten past. In many countries around the world, girls and women do not have access to sports or don’t have the same access as boys and men. For those women who do want to practice a sport, it can be a risky thing to attempt. Hajar Abulfazl, a 24-year-old medical doctor who had played for the Afghanistan women’s national soccer team for nearly a decade, also went through these struggles.
When she was younger, she would sneak out through an open window to play soccer. Her uncle had come over and was blocking the front door. He was there a lot of the time to tell her to stop playing sports. “He’d say, ‘Hajar, it’s against Islam for a girl to do that, you can’t do that.’ ” ‘Hajar said she could not find anything in Islam that said girls play sports.In most families in Afghanistan, girls and women were expected to stay home to clean, cook, get married and have children, while sports were for men. “I wanted to use the power of sport to show the power of women to people,” she said in an interview last month in her office in downtown Washington. She said it’s important for her that girls understand how strong they can be. When she was younger, she often heard the opposite and it bothered her. “I just wouldn’t accept that girls were weak,” she said.
When Abulfazl was 14, she saw the members of Afghanistan’s first women’s national soccer team rise above. In 2007, Khalida Popal became captain of that team. By playing soccer, Popal could prove to men that women were their equals, she said. The country wasn’t quite ready for women to play soccer at the time. Garbage was thrown at her and she and other players were called prostitutes. But soccer was too important to her and she would not quit. She considered it more than a game. “I used football to prove and say that women and men are equal and women can take an active power in society. She had to flee the country in 2011 because she and her family had received death threats. “I wanted to encourage other women to join us and stand with us.” Popal now lives in Denmark, where she was granted asylum and is the program and event director for the Afghanistan women’s national team.
Another female athlete, Kiran Khan from Pakistan, grew up training for swimming. She competed at the 2008 Beijing Olympics after years of posing as a boy so she could swim in a local club that barred girls who had reached puberty. To pass as male, she would wear her hair short and wore a full-length swimsuit. She said that swimming gave her the confidence to feel like a powerful woman and that more girls should have that opportunity. These women faced a lot of backlash for pursuing what they were passionate about and still succeeded. Representation matters, and the next time a young girl sees a woman being a leader, they’ll know they can have an impact too. Just like Hajar Abulfazl when she saw the members of Afghanistan’s first women’s national soccer team.
Images: The Afghan Football Federation
Grizzwald's Sports Section
That's the thing about us Grizzlies: We put our blood, sweat and the tears in what we do. We earn our success, whether we're on the track, on the field, in the gym or in the classroom.