KABUL: Afghan female volleyball players called for a change in mindset Thursday at a Kabul tournament marking a rare chance for women athletes to compete in the national spotlight in the deeply conservative, war-torn Muslim country.
The United Nations hosted the tournament as part of a campaign against gender violence in Afghanistan, still seen by foreign observers as one of the worst places in the world to be a woman.
“Initially, my father was against my playing volleyball, he threw out my jerseys,” Muzhgan Sadat, a member of the Afghan Red Crescent team said.
The young business graduate, her head covered in a scarf, said she begged her father to reconsider – and, when he finally saw her play, “he changed his mentality”.
“I urge every single person, please change your mind and don’t look down on women,” the 23-year-old said. “Please don’t impose your restrictions and oppressions on them. A woman has the same abilities as a man does… Chase your dreams, never give up, fight against restrictions and show your parents that women can be as good as men.”
Shugla Hellali, a specialist on gender issues at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Afghanistan, said she is “optimistic” about women in Afghanistan.
“Ten years ago, we had no girls’ volleyball team in the country, but now they have come such a long way forward,” she said.
Gender equality in Afghanistan has improved somewhat since a US-led coalition toppled the hardline Taliban regime in 2001, but women still suffer tight restrictions and regular violence.
In March 2015, a 27-year-old woman known as Farkhunda was beaten to death in Kabul after being falsely accused of blasphemy, a case that became a symbol of the endemic violence that women still face.