RECENT events in the turbulent world of politics have been seen to devastating effect in Afghanistan.

The incursion of the Taliban, ousted to the periphery some 20 years ago, towards the capital of Kabul has been swift and spectacular in its efficiency.

The lack of resistance surprising to both sides of the conflict, it seems.

Scenes at Kabul airport of citizens desperate to escape the country have been vivid. The Taliban has asked for calm and given reassurances that there will be no reprisals; an amnesty of sorts has been extended to all in the country.

The fragile, scaffolding of a westernised government has collapsed.

There are many questions that remain. Foremost, what is to be done of the hard-fought rights of women for equality including education and careers, and their love of sport?

The Taliban have pledged that women in Afghanistan will have rights “within the bounds of Islamic law,” or Shariah, under their newly established rule.

It is unclear exactly what form this will take going forward.

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan in the past, they imposed a strict interpretation.

Women were not allowed to work outside the home or leave the house without a male guardian, eliminating schooling for girls, and publicly flogging people who violated the group’s morality code.

Unsurprisingly, millions of Afghan women are terrified of a return to the past ways. And fearful of the reprisals that would accompany any protests to the contrary.

Shariah is based on the Quran, stories of the Prophet Muhammad’s life and the rulings of religious scholars, forming the moral and legal framework of Islam. The Quran details a path to a moral life, but not a specific set of laws.

One interpretation of Shariah could afford women extensive rights, while another could leave women with few. Critics have said that some of the Taliban restrictions on women under the guise of Islamic law went beyond the bounds of Shariah.

It does not forbid women to leave home without a male escort or bar them from working in most jobs.

When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, they banned television and most musical instruments. They established a department for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice based on a Saudi model.

Restrictions on behaviour, dress and movement were enforced by the morality police officers who drove around in pickup trucks, publicly humiliating and whipping women who did not adhere to their rules. In 1996, a woman in Kabul had the end of her thumb cut off for wearing nail polish, according to Amnesty International.

Women accused of adultery were stoned to death.

The world has been watching and listening as to how the new regime will enact their religious belief doctrine. The rhetoric thus far offers a more open, conciliatory, respectful treatment of Afghan women.

A Taliban spokesman said that women would be allowed to work and study, and another official has said that women should participate in government. A significant shift from past practices.

But outside Kabul, some women have been told not to leave home without a male relative escorting them and the Taliban have prevented women from entering at least one university. They have also shut down some women’s clinics and schools for girls.

Football’s world governing body FIFA has written to several governments to request the emergency evacuation of female players from Afghanistan.

Players are said to fear for their lives following the Taliban’s takeover of the Afghan capital Kabul.

Players’ organisation Fifpro is also calling for urgent assistance for immediate withdrawal. The union said it was working with governments to establish an evacuation plan, adding: “The ambition is to bring as many people to safety as possible.”

FIFA said the situation in Afghanistan “remains unstable and very worrying”.

Earlier this week, former Afghanistan national women’s team captain Khalida Popal pleaded with sporting bodies to “help get our players safe” because she fears for those left behind under the Taliban rule.

Many of the country’s female footballers have gone into hiding since the takeover. “I have not been able to sleep, I have been crying and feeling helpless,” said Popal, who was a key figure in forming the first Afghanistan women’s football team in 2007.

During their previous rule some 20 years ago, the Taliban stopped girls from receiving any form of education.

Women were unable to leave their homes without a male relative, were not allowed to work and were forced to wear the all-covering burqa. Any dissent led to punishments and beatings.

Haley Carter, former assistant coach of the Afghan women’s team, is among those to have been in contact with several players in hiding.

“If anybody finds out that they’re talking to anyone on the outside, their life is in even more danger,” Carter told BBC World Service Sport.

The US Marines veteran said she had received a message from one player saying: “They are going to kill us. They don’t want girls to play football and we’re in risk.”

Carter has advised players in hiding to “stay smart, stay safe and be patient”, as she joined Popal in calling on sporting bodies to help protect those most at risk.

A FIFA spokesperson said in a statement: “We remain in contact with the Afghanistan Football Federation, and other stakeholders, and continue to receive updates from players in the country.” Hosna Jalil, the former deputy minister for women’s affairs in Afghanistan, told Deutsche Welle, a network in Germany, that she had little faith the Taliban would interpret Shariah differently now.

“Shariah law for them meant lack of access to education, restricted access to health services, no access to justice, no shelter, no food security, no employment, literally nothing,” she said.

Ludo Aequitas believes in sport as a framework for equality.

Issues of race, gender, age, sex, religion, disability and social status should not be the basis for discrimination in any society.

Not only sport, but access to education, careers, equal pay, and other basic human rights and the freedom to exercise those rights are the fundamental underpinnings of a democratic society.

Discrimination and oppression lead to mental health problems. Anxiety, depression, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide and other behaviours increase as a result.

Ludo Aequitas – Equality Through Sport – awaits with the rest of the world to monitor the plight of Afghan women and the promise of equality under a new regime.


Image via Time Magazine

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