KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — In a nation where most women remain second-class citizens, many cloaked from head-to-toe in burkas, one group has broken down formidable barriers by forming an Afghanistan women's football league.
The standards of the grounds, and the play, may fall short of world class, but the delight at breaking the shackles of the conservative society is clear to see. So too is the determination to become the new face of Afghan women, gaining dignity for themselves and other women in their war-torn country while also improving their image worldwide.
The competitors in the Kabul league do have to make some concessions to the conservative protocols of the society, wearing head scarves and also covering their legs, yet even those accommodations have done little to reduce the disapproval and even ostracism they face for entering what is regarded as a male preserve.
The sport is very popular in Afghanistan, even if it is rare to find more than rudimentary facilities anywhere outside the capital. Even rarer is the sight and sound of women on the pitch.
But at a recent semifinal match of the Kabul Women's Premier League at the Football Federation Stadium, the shouts of encouragement and joy were unmistakably female and were not dampened by the heavy rain, even if the stands were largely empty.
"It is disappointing, but we are grateful to have it," Afghan Club player Nadia Derweshi said of the meager attendance at the league semifinal game which her team won 4-0.
Derweshi started playing football eight years ago and is a goalkeeper for the female national team.
Hajar Abulfazl, a 22-year old national team player, says it will take the passing of generations for Afghan society to accept girls and women playing football, yet she is optimistic about the future and the progress of her teammates.
"It is very difficult to convince families to accept and let their daughters to join in a football team," said Abulfazl, who herself doubts and resistance from many when she took up sports but was thankful for the support of her parents.
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