From sneaking out of her bedroom window to playing for the Afghanistan women’s national soccer team for nearly a decade, Hajar Abulfazl, a young woman from Kabul, Afghanistan, has become an inspiration for women living in the Middle East who desire to play sports.
Her mother and father were both supportive of her love for soccer and saw sports as something positive and productive. However, her uncle did not feel the same way and would stand at the front door, not letting her past him if she tried to leave. He came over often and told Abulfazl to stop playing sports.
Abulfazl said, “He’d say, ‘Hajar, it’s against Islam for a girl to do that, you can’t do that. He’d say, ‘if you keep playing, you’re not going to find a husband. And if you do find one, think of your children, how shamed they would be, think of your sons. Think of your family. When you play, you’re hurting all of us.’”
Abulfazl did not understand why her uncle felt this way because Islam does not state anything that prohibits girls from sports. However, in most Afghanistan families, women are expected to stay home, cook, clean, get married, and have children. Abulfazl’s uncle was implying that those were her only options and that she should leave sports to the boys and men.
When Abulfazl was young, she would hear people whisper about her father, who worked in the government. They’d say, “Too bad for him. He could be more powerful if he had more sons rather than so many daughters.” Abulfazl often wondered why they would say this and why women could not be powerful as well.
She was interviewed from her office in downtown Washington, saying, “I wanted to use the power of sport to show the power of women to people. I know the benefits of sports and people can’t hide their eyes to it. You learn how to be a hard worker and how when you lose, you learn to work harder to be successful the next time. It makes you feel like you can do anything. I couldn’t have learned that without sports.”
It is difficult to see how privileged American society is when things like women playing sports are so normalized in our culture. There are still so many young girls across the globe that don’t get to experience the things that American girls often take for granted.
Now, at 24, Abulfazl is a medical doctor and works at Child Advocacy and Women’s Rights International, which is a nonprofit organization based in Washington. Abulfazl also founded Tawana Youth Development Organization (TYDO), which organizes school visits and sports festivals to promote sports among girls in the country.
Abulfazl says she is thankful for the Afghanistan women that fought hard before her so she and so many other women could play sports. She is now carrying on that legacy by promoting sports to families across the country and encouraging women to play. She fights hard to convince traditionally Islamic families to let their daughters become involved in sports. Abulfazl honors her Islamic faith while still participating in the game she loves.
Women that demonstrate this bravery and persistence will forever be praised for their impact on the generations to come. Abulfazl shows that women can do the same things that men can do. The globe continues to move forward towards equality for all people. It is because of people like Abulfazl and so many others that progress is happening.
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