November 28, 2008 / 6:33 PM / 12 years ago

Soccer helps Afghan girls reclaim some freedom

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Hope, confidence and a bit of freedom to have fun are the themes of an uplifting new documentary film from Afghanistan by an Iranian filmmaker.

Bahareh Hosseini’s “Afghan Girls Can Kick” follows Afghanistan’s first national women’s soccer team as they prepare for their first matches abroad in Pakistan and talk about how their passion for the game is helping them move on from the days when their rights and freedoms were heavily restricted.

The movie shows how the team and the beautiful game has provided an outlet for girls previously deprived of sports and education under the hardline Islamist rule of the Taliban.

“We want to show the whole world the ability of an Afghan woman, the things they can do,” team captain Shamila Kohestani said during an interview in the film, which is being shown at the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA).

The Taliban banned women from working or leaving the home without a male relative when they were in power from 1996 until 2001. Girls could not play outdoors and sport was out of the question.

“The girls are reclaiming their physical freedom through sport,” said 30-year-old Hosseini.

“I was fed up of stories about poor Afghan women as victims. I looked for the women who were pushing the boundaries in this male-dominated society.”

But the film shows how some of the deeply conservative society’s traditions still linger, with the girls told to fetch their headscarves before they start playing in televised matches, for example.

Hosseini also said she saw girls dropping out of the team because they were at an age when they were expected to marry, or because they needed to work to support typically large families. Training was also postponed because of money worries.

While some aspects of women’s lives have improved since 2001 and Afghanistan now also has female athletes and even boxers, many people remain hostile to the idea of girls playing sports or getting an education.

Recently Taliban insurgents were arrested for throwing acid in the faces of schoolgirls in southern Afghanistan, as violence in the country has surged to its worst level this year since the Taliban’s removal by U.S-led and Afghan forces.

Reporting by Catherine Hornby, editing by Paul Casciato

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