Forget drugs and booze, young Afghans risk their parents' wrath — by going to the gym

Forget drugs and booze, young Afghans risk their parents' wrath — by going to the gym
By Sallyann Nicholls and Masoud Imani Kalesar
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In conservative Afghan society, women are secondary to men, and female participation in sport — including at female-only fitness clubs — is frowned upon.


In conservative Afghan society, women are secondary to men and they must often rely on men to make decisions for their education and health.

Its highest religious body dictates that the sexes cannot mingle at work or in some public spaces, and after finishing school, most women marry and live out their lives as a mother and housewife.

But one teenage girl in Kabul has decided such a future is not for her.

Beigum, 17, is preparing for her entrance exam so she can go to university to become a doctor. And after class, she likes to spend time at the gym with her younger sister Lyll.

“I want to be different. I don’t like to be like other Afghan girls,” Beigum tells Euronews, “I come here to have a good shape, a good body, and a good health. Because of that, I choose fitness.”

But female participation in sport is generally frowned upon in Afghan’s patriarchal society, and that includes fitness clubs, so Beigum and her sister have to go in secret.

“No, they (her parents) don’t know I come here,” says Beigum. “If they know they will not let me come here because they said that ‘no, it’s not good for you’.”

Hourieh has run the women-only gym, which Beigum considers to be her “escape” from daily life, for five months. Around 15 to 20 girls, women and grandmothers attend regularly and attract new visitors through word of mouth.

“In the past it was taboo. A woman could not express herself, nor do anything with her body or talk about her body,” says Hourieh. “But fitness has inspired women to think about, and take ownership of her body.”

The 19-year-old coach also runs two other gender-exclusive fitness clubs in the Afghan capital, and while she has faced threats from people who fear that her work subverts tradition, she has vowed to “continue to do my job”.

For Beigum, however, women-only fitness clubs carry more meaning.

“This young generation, especially these women, they have to change themselves,” she says. “Because if they don’t change then who will change this country?”

Some names have been changed to protect their identities.

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