For women in Afghanistan, playing outdoor games was out of question under the repressive Taliban government. But the emergence of a national women’s soccer team in recent years is one of the many developments that symbolize changes the strife-torn country has since undergone. The team recently competed in the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship in Islamabad.
Although the team won no matches, players sounded upbeat that they will do better in the future. They are also confident new President Ashraf Ghani will take further steps to promote women's soccer in Afghanistan.
Frozan Tajali, 21, is the captain of the Afghan women's team. She said that increased participation in international events is helping her players improve their skills. Tajali said that for the first time in October, a four-team female league was organized in Kabul and it also helped in identifying players for the national team.
"Yes, women are now free and can play football [in Afghanistan]. We organized the league recently for selecting the national team and 20 girls came just from one province alone to Kabul to take part in the league,” she said.
Defender Yalda Arghandiwal came all the way from the United States to represent her country at the soccer championship, held at Islamabad’s Jinnah Stadium.
The 20-year-old Afghan player acknowledged there are still cultural restrictions on women for playing soccer and other outdoor games in parts of Afghanistan. However, she said things have improved.
“There is a lot, more brighter cases in Afghanistan, it is not just the Taliban taking over and nobody has any rights. We do have rights it is more free we have our president, he is trying to make the country better for us. And yes, the women now are getting better and this is a big example for you. They are out here playing soccer so that should be a big improvement that yes Afghanistan is proving as a country and they have owned the future,” said Yalda.
Yalda comes from Kabul and moved to the United States a decade ago with her family, where she regularly started playing soccer. She said her team must improve to compete with countries like India and Nepal, who have been playing for several decades.
“We lost but that does not matter. As long as we tried our best - we tried really, really hard - and we worked how we want to work, it is totally fine. This is the just the beginning for Afghanistan national soccer team and for the women of Afghanistan. This could be a big start and it could just lead us into a more brighter future,” said Yalda.
Yalda was among five Afghan female players who are settled abroad but represent their national team in international events at the request of Afghanistan Football Federation.
Midfielder Shabnam Mubariz said Afghanistan has made significant progress in recent years in all areas, including soccer for women.
“I see a bright future because we are starting to playing football now,” she said.
Monika Staab, a German consultant from FIFA watched the teams perform at the SAFF championship. Staab said that she has noted a marked improvement in the Afghan team since she first saw them in action seven years ago in Pakistan.
“Afghanistan women want to play. I know the Taliban and all these people who say women should stay at home, things are changing we are now in 2014 and we have to give the girls the opportunity. We have to push them move on to play, let them play,” said Staab.
Members of the Afghan team wear black head-scarves and full leggings in all of their matches to adhere to the country's conservative Islamic culture. Even after the Taliban's removal from power, gender segregation remains deeply rooted in Afghan life.