Talibans and Female Footballers

By Isaac Asabor

There is no denying the fact that since the Taliban retook control of Afghanistan, nearly two decades after political leaders were driven out of the capital, Kabul, by US troops, that not few Afghan women have been expressing fear over their rights and future.

The fear, no doubt, is not in any way misplaced when seen from the perspective of the fact that when the Taliban last held power between 1996 and 2001 that women were denied education and employment opportunities. For instance, girls could not attend school and women could only be seen in public with a male escort and their bodies fully covered while punishment for disobeying these strict rules was severe, ranging from beating to execution.

Despite the assurance given by the Taliban in its first news conference on Tuesday, August 17, 2021, that it would protect women’s rights and press freedom following its stunning takeover of Afghanistan as the group’s co-founder returned to the country, not few women are taking the group for its words as whatever assurances emanating from it are been taken with pinch of salt.

The group through its spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid had assured at the conference, “We are going to allow women to work and study. We have got frameworks, of course. Women are going to be very active in the society but within the framework of Islam.”

The Taliban vowed at the forum to respect women’s rights, forgive those who fought them and ensure Afghanistan does not become a haven for terrorists as part of a publicity blitz aimed at reassuring world powers and a fearful population.

It is not an exaggeration to say that since the Taliban seized power on Sunday that statements that sought to portray it as more moderate than when it imposed a strict form of Islamic rule in the late 1990s are been repeatedly made by its leaders. Despite the fusillade of assurances, many Afghans have remained skeptical, and thousands have raced to the airport, desperate to flee the country.

In the same vein, older generations are yet to forget the Taliban’s previous rule, when they largely confined women to their homes, banned television and music, and held public executions even as  A U.S orchestrated invasion drove them from power months after the 9/11 attacks, which al-Qaida had coordinated from Afghanistan while being sheltered by the Taliban.

Unarguably out of fear of the Taliban, the former captain of the Afghan women’s soccer team has urged players to delete social media, erase public identities and burn their kits for safety’s sake now that the country is again under Taliban rule.

As reported by Reuters, the Copenhagen-based footballer had in a video interview on Wednesday, August 18, 2021, disclosed that the militants had killed, raped and stoned women in the past and female footballers were scared of what the future might hold.

The co-founder of the Afghan women’s football league said she had always used her voice to encourage young women “to stand strong, to be bold, and to be visible” but now she had a different message.

“Today I’m calling them and telling them, take down their names, remove their identities, and take down their photos for their safety. Even I’m telling them to burn down or get rid of your national team uniform,” she said.

“And that is painful for me, for someone as an activist who stood up and did everything possible to achieve and earn that identity as a women’s national team player.

“To earn that badge on the chest, to have the right to play and represent our country, how much we were proud.”

During their 1996-2001 rule, guided by Islamic law, the Taliban stopped women from working. Girls were not allowed to go to school and women had to wear burqas to go out, and then only when accompanied by a male relative.

Those who broke the rules sometimes suffered humiliation and public beatings by the Taliban’s religious police.

With the Taliban back in power in Kabul, there is widespread concern that women in Afghanistan will once again have their freedoms severely curtailed. The women’s national football team and the local league could fold.

In a similar vein, given the fact that the Taliban is back in power in Kabul, there is widespread concern that women in Afghanistan will once again have their freedoms severely curtailed. The women’s national football team and the local league could fold.

Worse still, there is the fear that there will be more interest than usual in qualification Group B for the 2022 Women’s Asian Cup, which is scheduled to start on September 23.

It would be recalled that Afghanistan have been drawn with Vietnam, Maldives and host nation Tajikistan. But whether the Afghan team will be allowed to go to Dushanbe, indeed whether it will even exist at all, will be an early indicator of the Taliban’s attitude to women as they return to power.

The world has been stunned by the Islamic group’s swift capture of Kabul two decades after a US-led invasion in 2001 ended their first five years in power. Back then, Kabul’s Ghazi Stadium became known around the world, not for football, but for the executions of those who fell afoul of the Taliban’s strict laws.

Women could not leave the house unless accompanied by a male guardian and wearing a full burqa, they were not allowed to work and girls could not go to school, let alone play football. And there are fears that the second Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan will rule in a similar fashion to the previous ultra-conservative regime.

As gathered, the founder and former captain of the Afghanistan women’s national team, Shamila Kohestani, was a child during the Taliban’s first time in power and remembers it well. Now 33, she watched on August 17 as Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told a press conference in Kabul that this time, women would be allowed to work and study and “will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam.”


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