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From street to stadium to sexual harassment: Afghan women's football in crisis

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By Fariba Pajooh and Lindsey Johnstone
Women play footbal in the streets of Kabul
Women play footbal in the streets of Kabul   -   Copyright  Maryam Majd, euronews

With Afghan women's football in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, amid allegations of sexual and physical abuse, the liberating influence the game has had in the country is in jeopardy.

The attorney general has suspended six members of the Afghanistan Football Federation — including its president, Keramuddin Karim — over the allegations of sexual and physical abuse of the women’s national team.

Current and former members of the team told Euronews that female athletes are "humiliated" in Afghanistan and not respected by the AFF. 

"We're being harassed on our way to the stadium," one said. 

Senior figures associated with the team told Euronews that the abuse, which they say is systematic within the AFF, took place at the federation’s headquarters and at a training camp.

Madina Azizi, a former member of the women’s football department at the AFF who was forced to leave the team last year, spoke of her frustration with a system that she says has failed to protect its players.

"We are working in a very problematic situation. I was unfairly dismissed from the national football team and I was subjected to slanderous accusations," Azizi said.

In the past year, nine women have been fired from the women's team — Azizi says because they turned down sexual propositions from federation staff.

The AFF said in a statement that it “vigorously rejects the false accusations made with regard to the AFF’s women’s national team” — but this did not deter FIFA, the Afghan attorney general, or the country's president, Mohammed Ashraf Ghani, from getting involved in the issue.

Nilab Mohammadi has been a player on the women's national team for four years.

"People humiliate girls who play sport. They argue that sport is not necessary for women," she said.

"Life is not easy for us, and I decided to fight those who looked at us with contempt. We are in the 21st century and we no longer want to live in the shadows. We are living in a super traditional country but we must remove obstacles."

Although Afghanistan maintains its traditional cultural structure, there are now limited facilities for women to participate in sport — and they are allowed to enter stadiums as spectators, a right women in Iran are still struggling for, and which those in Saudi Arabia gained only this year.

The women's football team was formed in 2007 by the Afghanistan National Olympic Committee, with players recruited from selected school girls in Kabul.

In May 2010, Danish sports brand Hummel International signed up to sponsor the male, female and youth teams of Afghanistan.

In December 2010, the team played its first official international game, against Nepal, during the South Asian Football Federation Women's Championships in Bangladesh.

With women's football gaining a higher profile globally and given how far the sport has come in a country where women have had to claw back their rights since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the Afghan women's national team are unlikely to go down with a fight.