Girl sports in Afghanistan stays popular among motivated athletes

Zahira Sarwar – WNN SOAPBOX

Afghan women play soccer
Three-time Olympian and World Champion Lorrie Fair hosts a soccer clinic for the Afghan National Women’s Football Team on Nov. 22, 2012 at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. Soccer events also are hosted regularly at the Ghazi Stadium in Kabul, Afghanistan where women participate in sports events. Image: U.S. State Dept

(WNN) Ottawa, Ontario, CANADA, AMERICAS: Take a moment to reflect on what comes to mind when you hear or read the word “Afghanistan.” Some common things that often come to people’s minds if they have never personally been to Afghanistan include war or violence, poverty, drugs, oppressed burqa-clad women and girls who are not allowed to attend school.

Who can blame the average world citizen for believing these to be the only representations of Afghanistan when that is all the media publicizes? While there is some truth to the stories that accompany these images in the news media, what if I told you that wonderful positive things are also happening in Afghanistan economically, politically and socially?

Among them the popularity of sports amongst children, especially young girls.

At the Ghazi Olympic stadium in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, there is no shortage of young and motivated athletes. Although during the Taliban regime of the 1990s the stadium was used as a site for public punishments and executions, in 2011 the US government funded the renovation of the stadium.

Today, the stadium is a site of hopes and dreams for Afghanistan’s athletes. Not only is there a national female boxing team, of which Shabnam Rahimi earned the title of being the first female boxer to bring home a gold medal last year, but there is also a national women’s football team that won its’ first international match against Pakistan.

If that is not enough to make you rethink your perceptions of Afghanistan or girls and women there, there is also a budding group of avid skateboarders at a Kabul-based non-governmental organization by the name of Skateistan. Children as young as five years old, 40% of which are girls, are kept off the streets by focussing on sports, skateboarding, education, and building friendships.

In many war-torn countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan, alternative forms of therapy have been used to help survivors of violence deal with traumas they experienced.

Just as art therapy was used to aid in the healing process of children from those war-torn countries, sports has been immensely therapeutic in helping Afghan children and youth to cope with issues they have faced and continue to face on a daily basis by providing an arena to temporarily escape the everyday hardships that accompany the realities of war.

Sports can also help children and youth develop team-building skills, learn values such as fair play, and promote healthy development.

While the road towards the future often seems bleak for Afghanistan, one need not look further than the Afghan youth to realize that hope and progress are not a faint dream but a reality that continues to drive the country’s next generation.

The popularity of sports amongst Afghan children, especially girls, does not mask the realities and hardships they face on a daily basis. Rather, it is a signifier of the determination and passion within every Afghan child to build better futures for themselves, their families and their country.

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WNN commentator Zahira Sarwar is a local activist and academic who is working to break down universal misrepresentations of women, Afghans and Muslims through public speaking engagements and presentations at local book clubs, schools, university lectures and academic conferences. She is currently a Women’s and Gender Studies Master’s candidate at Carleton University in Canada who received an Honours BA in Women’s and Gender Studies (2012) and Honours BA in Political Science with a minor in Women’s Studies (2009).

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