An uplifting scene of young girls in Afghanistan

Girls are determined to play football

By Monica Awad
Girls' fustal tournament
UNICEF Afghanistan/2019/Amini

20 May 2019

Kabul, Afghanistan, 22 April 2019 – “I want to be a Judge when I grow up,” says 17-year old Gerana.  She and a group of 192 adolescent girls from 12 football clubs in Kabul have come together to participate in a Futsal football tournament for girls.

Playing sports is critical for the physical and mental well-being of young girls.  Providing adolescent girls with opportunities to play and engage in sports activities is one of the means to addressing barriers to girls’ education in Afghanistan.

There are 3.7 million children who are out-of-school, almost two-thirds are girls in Afghanistan.  In some remote areas in the south of the country, almost 85 per cent of adolescent girls are out of school.

 “Football keeps me healthy and helps me study better,” says Gerana.

Research has shown that playing sports enhances development and learning abilities among children.  It also encourages improved academic achievement in school. 

Girls' fustal tournament
UNICEF Afghanistan/2019/Amini

Overcoming stereotypes

As young girls are playing football at one of Kabul’s in-door stadiums, they are sending a positive message to all girls in their country.   They are addressing the barriers to their rights, especially their right to education and play. 

Thanks to the Republic of Korea, UNICEF Afghanistan is using the unique power of sports where everyone, irrelevant of age, or gender, or socio-economic background are united and are motivated to achieve.  The futsal football tournament is a driver of positive change for children and young people, especially for girls.

“I am a firm believer of the impact of sports, especially on girls,” says Enas Obeidat, Chief of Central Region Field Office.  “By having these young girls play football, they send a message to all their peers that anything is possible in Afghanistan.”

Through the sports for development initiative, UNICEF Afghanistan promotes safe and inclusive play and sports as a means to improving young girls’ lives.  Sports equips young girls with critical life skills, such as communication skills, cooperation, critical thinking and creativity.

“Sport builds girl’s self-esteem, which is critical in a country like Afghanistan,” adds Obeidat.

At the stadium, cheerful and loud cries are heard. Parents, siblings and other family members are publicly cheering on their girls.  It is an unfamiliar, but uplifting scene in Afghanistan, away from the sounds of gun shots and explosions.

“By having these young girls play football, they send a message to all their peers that anything is possible in Afghanistan.”

Girls' fustal tournament
UNICEF Afghanistan/2019/Amini

The futsal football tournament, which started in April and will end in early May, sets the platform for future positive sports engagement by young girls.  Currently, it accommodates 12 different girls’ football clubs of Kabul, with the hope of its expansion across the country.

Other young girls like Farida, focus on the health benefits of sports.  “All girls should play sports, it is good for our health.”

In a country where anemia is high among adolescent girls, sports is a good entry point for the adoption of a healthy lifestyle.  Young girls are more likely to appreciate the values of proper nutrition, and fitness.  It equips them with skills that will help them make better choices that positively impacts their health now and in the future.

“Sports can offer young girls multiple benefits, whether physical, mental or psychological well-being,” says Obeidat.  “But most importantly it helps young girls like Gerana and Farida know that it is up to them to work and try to reach their full potential.  It is with a vision, hope and hard work everything is possible” ends Obeidat.