Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Afghan sportswomen are paving the way for future athletes

Afghan sportswoman Kimia Yousofi overcomes
gender hurdles to realise her Olympic dream
Afghanistan’s Kimia Yusufi competed against the best of the best at the 100-meter heat at the 2016 Summer Olympics. She was one of three Afghan athletes representing the country in Rio and the only woman athlete.

Despite the underrepresentation at this game, Afghan woman have a long history of being athletes. Even though, women have historically been excluded from our national sport of Buzkashi, before the decades of war we were encouraged to participate in sports. In fact, we had our first women’s cycling team in 1986 and girls played sports as a part of their school curriculum. Female athletes even traveled to other countries to compete.
When the Taliban came to power in 1996, they banned women from all kinds of sports and outdoor activities. They put a lot of restrictions and regulations on men’s sports too. There were very few spaces for men to exercise and they had to wear long pants and sleeves.
After the fall of the Taliban, with the support of donor organizations, the Afghan government built new playgrounds for school girls. During the recent years, there have been some noticeable improvements on women’s participation in sports and outdoor activities. Many sport teams for women were created. They have allowed women to both play nationally and internationally. The women’s football team has brought home many medals and paved the way for increased opportunities for female athletes. In 2004, two Afghan women competed in the Olympics for the first time in the history of the country. Women are now doing anything from skiing on the plains of Bamyan to climbing the country’s tallest mountains and they are spending more time outside.
Despite these tremendous accomplishments, the fight for Afghan women’s full participation in all sports is far from over. The right to be physically active and engage in outdoor activities is still not a reality for most Afghan women and one major barrier is persisting mentalities that see women’s presence outside the house as a taboo.
In many parts of the country, people still believe that it’s shameful for women to leave their homes and go to the parks. Many believe that outdoor activities are only for men. Gyms and parks are often male-only spaces where women would face harassment.
Luckily this is changing. In urban centers, like Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif, people are now more aware of the importance of exercising and they are adopting the culture of outing and picnicking. There are some gyms, sport clubs, parks and even a few swimming pools just for women. On the weekends, families in many of the larger cities take their lunches or dinners to the parks for some fresh air.
Kabul and Mazar have many parks for women and families. In Herat Province, women go to Takhti-e-Safar where they can exercise and enjoy the morning fresh air. In Takhar, women and girls go to picnics in a place called Chashma area in district of Taluqan. Since men are prohibited from entering this area on Wednesdays, women take the chance to swim in the river.
Regardless of gender and age, people need exercise, fun and fresh air. Women should have the chance to exercise in safe spaces. On this front, from Kimia Yusufi running in Rio, to Sadaf Rahimi boxing in Kabul we are breaking barriers every day.