John Kerry Meets With Afghan Women's Soccer Team

On Tuesday, during his visit to Kabul, Secretary of State John Kerry met up with the Afghan women’s soccer team to kick a few balls and talk about women’s issues in Afghanistan. He learned about the difficulties these women face in simply being able to step outside and play soccer. In addition to the soccer team, Kerry also met with members of a women’s entrepreneurship program where they talked about their concerns with business and security.

The players told Kerry that during the reign of the Taliban from 1996 to 2001, they were not allowed to go out and play soccer at all. Although this time of tight restriction is over, the team is still only able to play in front of certain crowds of people, mainly family members. These types of precautions are taken because women playing soccer is thought in Afghanistan to be wildly taboo. Another huge issue with their ability to play freely is their lack of place to play after their field was turned into a helicopter landing pad. Zahra Mahmoodi, one of the team’s founding members, thinks that with these obstacles removed her team could have a shot at being in the Olympics one day. Kerry said he would see what he could do to help this dream come true.

In addition to problems with their ability to play soccer, the Secretary of State also heard women speak about their concerns for the businesses they run. These successful women worry that in 2014 when most foreign troops withdraw from Afghanistan and a new president is elected, their security will be affected and thus their ability to support their businesses will be compromised.

When the question is posed of what needs to be changed in countries like Afghanistan in terms of women’s rights, the answer is complicated. The issue is not merely limited religious or political problems, it is about beliefs deeply embedded in the culture and this is what makes it so hard. Perhaps the only way things will change in this area is with time and a continued fight against this inequality. Rights which may seem small for those in countries with more rights for women, like being able to go out and play soccer without fear, are areas of opportunity for change and are incredibly important.

Kerry was impressed with these women’s success up against such adversity. He exclaimed, "Everybody’s a tycoon!" when hearing about all the work these women in the entrepreneurship program do. Many of them told him about the multiple businesses they run including shoe and clothing manufacturing, software services and farming. The success of these women after the end of Taliban reign shows the direction they are hopefully heading in in terms of gaining rights. With time, continued strength, and courage maybe Afghanistan can one day be a far better place for women.