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Promoting girls' empowerment through sport in Afghanistan

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2010/Walther
Volleyball game under way at a local Girls Sport Forum in Afghanistan.

By Cornelia Walther

BAMYAN, Afghanistan, 8 April 2010 – On the occasion of International Women’s Day last month, UNICEF, the Bamyan Provincial Department of Women's Affairs and the local Youth Information and Contact Centre (YICC) joined forces to promote girls' empowerment through sport – by organizing an all-female football match.

UNICEF and the YICC have created a girls’ volleyball, hockey and football team – the latter has 16 members and is affiliated with the Afghanistan Football Federation – with the goal of engaging girls in community development and peace-building.

“Participation in sport is a critical part of any child’s physical and social development, especially for girls. Sport can help to improve their self-esteem and self-awareness,” says Dr. Atiqullah Amiri of UNICEF's Outpost Bamyan. “Sport teaches integrity and self-management by setting objective standards that girls can work to achieve.”

Plans for the future

The girls on Bamyan’s football team are between 12 and 20 years of age. All of them have experienced disrespect and violence at home. In 2009, UNICEF and the YICC organized a workshop to train them as youth advocates for preventing domestic violence against women. Ever since, they have been actively promoting women’s rights within their families and neighbourhoods.

“My mother has been trying to discourage me from attending school since I have reached the age of being married,” says Shekeba, a 15-year-old participant. “The exchange with my friends in the YICC has made me understand that we are all in a similar situation and that this cannot continue.”

The female football players in Bamyan have various plans for the future, from teacher to doctor, translator to painter. Once she completes her education, for example, Shekeba plans to become a police officer – “because so far, the policemen in Bamyan are not helping women when it is needed,” she explains.

A supportive environment

UNICEF believes participation in sport provides girls with a safe and supportive environment. And in societies where the interaction of girls with boys is still taboo, team sports can offer a platform for communication among young people.

In Bamyan, UNICEF has been working with the government since 2001 to support women’s rights. Besides sport for girls and literacy classes for women, the agency supports local women's associations and works to raise awareness about gender equality at the family, community and district level.



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