What about the women of Afghanistan?
In December of 2010, the Afghanistan Women’s Soccer Team were in Bangladesh for their first official international game. Walking out onto the pitch in Cox's Bazar for the South Asian Football Federation Women’s Football Championships, it was a watershed moment.
Even though they suffered a heavy defeat to Nepal, for so many, this felt like a step in the right direction not just for women’s sport in Afghanistan – but for Afghan women across the board.
For so long, the tenuous political and social conditions within Afghanistan have created significant hurdles for a female, Muslim football team. These hurdles not only challenged fielding a team on the pitch, but also for securing sponsorship and support to create longevity in the women’s game.
Since that day in December however, the team has gone from strength to strength. Over the next six years, the Afghanistan Women’s Soccer Team would continue to feature at the South Asian Football Federation Women’s Football Championships. In 2016, they would receive official support from the Afghanistan Football Federation allowing for significant staffing to be made.
However, as the Taliban recently reclaimed political control in Kabul for the first time since 2001, there were renewed concerns about the safety and freedom for Afghan women including those of the national soccer team. So much so that Khalida Popal, former national team captain, urged soccer players across the country to “disappear in every way possible.”
“Take down your photos...Destroy all evidence that you ever played.”
Together, with FIFPRO lawyers and advisors, Popal is part of a group of officials across six countries (including Australia) that have been collaborating intensely to get Afghan athletes and their families evacuated from Afghanistan.
And this week, the Afghanistan Women’s National Team achieved their most important victory yet, with more than “75 people evacuated on a flight from Kabul” including many members of the team themselves. In a FIFPRO statement, Australia’s humanitarian involvement was particularly highlighted.
“We are grateful to the Australian government for evacuating a large number of women footballers and athletes from Afghanistan…
“These young women, both as athletes and activists, have been in a position of danger and on behalf of their peers around the world we thank the international community for coming to their aid.”
Speaking to the Guardian, Popal is proud of how the team have represented themselves in the face of extreme hardship.
“The women footballers have been brave and strong in a moment of crisis and we hope they will have a better life outside Afghanistan...Women’s football is a family and we must make sure everyone is safe.”
The work however, is only just beginning. Khalida Popal remains committed to shedding light on her homeland's struggle and hopes the rest of the world will do the same.
“My message to every single human being who is watching, witnessing what is happening in Afghanistan is: Raise your voice and ask the question, ‘What about the women of Afghanistan?
“What about the generation of young people who had so many big dreams?
“What about them?”
If you want to help those in Afghanistan there are a range of initiatives in place including:
• UNICEF Australia - Helping Children in Afghanistan
• World Food Programme - Afghanistan Emergency Appeal
• The UNHCR in Afghanistan