International Women’s Day: 14 Afghan Women Athletes Who Have Relentlessly Defied the Patriarchy
With women all over the world facing discrimination and fighting for gender equality every day, it is still easy to become frustrated and feel like we have a long way to go. Lately, I have found myself struggling with a heavy heart when I think about the women of my country, Afghanistan, and all that they are facing right now in the midst of peace negotiations, insecurity and conflict. However, with International Women’s Day arriving, I realized that while we still have lots to accomplish, we have also come so incredibly far, and that is something we should truly be proud of. In honor of International Women's Day, I want to highlight the accomplishments of Afghan women athletes who have persisted, challenged traditional values and redefined gender roles by fearlessly playing sports.
Afghan women athletes are at the forefront fighting for gender equality in a patriarchal society where women who play sports are considered “trouble makers”. Due to this stereotypical thinking, women athletes are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment, intimidation and threats to their safety. This mindset has created an unsafe environment for women within the Afghan Olympic Committee and sports federations, which was brought to light this year by some of the Afghan Women’s National Team Players.
Despite these challenges, many Afghan women athletes have shown incredible resilience and courage by facing scrutiny head on and persisting to play the sports they love so much no matter what the cost may be. Here are a few Afghan women athletes who inspire me on a daily basis and who remind me that no matter how tough the road ahead may be, we must continue to fight for our equality. Through sports, these incredible women have inspired us to unite communities around Afghanistan, stand for equality, and show the world that Afghanistan is a country to be proud of. These women athletes constantly remind us that Afghan women are strong, fearless, brave and unapologetically bold. Let’s celebrate these athletes who have risked their lives to rewrite Afghan women’s history.
1. Samira Asghari is the first Afghan woman selected as a member of the International Olympic Committee. Samira, as a basketball player who captained her team, is a perfect fit for this position and will address challenges women athletes face in Afghanistan and around the world.
2. Frishta Shaikhmiri and Yasamin Haidari, are two amazing Afghan women athletes who in 2019 were selected to serve as an international football referee and assistant referee, respectively, for FIFA. This is a first time that Afghan women have been selected as FIFA referees, and Frishta and Yasamin are making history by representing women on the world stage. Follow Frishta here -@FShaikhmiri
3. Hailai Arghandiwal is an Afghan American professional football player. Hailai has been playing for the Afghan Women’s National Soccer Team since 2010. Hailai is the first Afghan football player who has signed a professional contract with an Italian club, S.F. Fiorentina. Follow her here - @hailai_23
4. Hanifa Yousoufi is the first Afghan woman to climb Afghanistan’s highest peak, Mount Noshaq, and ascend to a height of 24,580 feet. “I did it for every single girl,” says Hanifa. Thanks to Ascend Athletics, a nonprofit organization in Kabul, for making it possible for women to climb. Follow the work of this organization here - @afghan_ascend
5. Sadia Bedil Sadi is former sprinter and now a boxer. Sadia has been training in boxing for the past two years with the goal of representing Afghanistan in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. Sadia does not want to attend the Olympics as a “symbol”, just so Afghanistan can have a woman athlete present. She wants to compete and bring a medal home.
6. Shabnam Mobarez has been the captain of Afghan Women’s National Football Team since 2016. She is an Afghan Danish football player and is currently playing for Aalborg Boldspilklub in Denmark. Follow her here - @shabnammobarez
7. Nilofar Bayat is the captain of the Afghanistan Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team. The team attended their first international games in 2017 and won the championship at the 4th annual Bali Cup International tournament. “I told them no, I never want to be like a boy. I want to be like myself. I want to be a strong woman,” says Nilofar.
8. Sima Azimi is Afghanistan’s first woman Wushu master. She trains women and young girls in the outskirts of Kabul to prepare them for international competitions. Additionally, Sima believes these skills will help women defend themselves against street harassment, which is endemic in Afghanistan.
9. Mona Amini is a football player for the Afghanistan Women’s National Football Team. Mona is one of the youngest and most skilled players in the national team. Mona’s father is her coach and biggest supporter. Follow her here- @10_amini
10. Muzghan Sadaat plays for the Afghanistan Women’s National Volleyball Team. As an athlete, Muzghan is using sports to question gender norms, build women’s confidence, and empower women in their fight against sexism.
11. Kamia Yousufi is an Afghan sprinter. She competed at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in the women’s 100-meter sprint. Thanks to Kamia for inspiring and empowering young women in Afghanistan to take up athletics.
12. Nooria Najafi plays for the Afghan Disabled National Ping Pong Team. No0ria attended the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Games in 2017 and brought a silver medal home. No0ria hopes to attend the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, but she is currently facing a lack of support and encouragement from the Afghan Ping Pong Federation to meet this goal.
13. Fakhria Momtaz is the founder of Afghanistan’s first yoga studio for women. Fakhria hopes to help women overcome stress and depression through practicing yoga. Follow her here- @Fakhria_Momtaz
14. Masouma Alizada and Zahra Alizada, two sisters known as the “Little Queens of Kabul,” are athletes with the cycling club in Albi, France and are hoping to attend the 2020 Olympics. Both sisters were members of the Women’s National Cycling Team for five years and brought home gold and silver medals from competitions in South Korea, Bahrain, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and France.
These courageous women athletes are teaching us what it means to be patient, brave and strong in the face of hardship and conflict.