Afghan Football Fights Against Sexual Abuse

One of the headlines from the Ballon d'Or ceremony was the incident involving Ada Hegerberg and Martin Solveig. Hegerberg, the Ballon d'Or winner, was asked by Solveig to twerk on stage. Hegerberg refused and Solveig comment was criticized as sexist.

The ongoing discussion about sexism in women's football is becoming more mainstream, thanks to the rising awareness to the issue and global campaigns like #MeToo. Yet, far away from Europe and North America, there are places that women's football is in an even worse situation.

FIFA gave another proof to that lately, as they announced that they will investigate the allegations of sexual and physical abuse in Afghanistan’s women's national team.

No one really knows how often it happened or how many players were involved, but this abuse was revealed by Khalida Popal, former head of women's football department at the Afghan FA who currently lives in Denmark as an asylum seeker. In an interview to The Guardian, Popal mentioned some of the incidents that happened while the team was in a training camp in Jordan last February.

"The FA sent two male representatives, going under the title of ‘Head of Women’s football’ and ‘Assistant Coach’," said Popal. "They were bullying and harassing the girls, particularly the ones from Afghanistan because they knew they wouldn’t speak up." She described how these men also made phone calls and slept at the players' rooms. Some of them offered to pay the players 100$ per month if they would accept to do everything without refusing.

What happened to those who didn't cooperate with the FA representatives? The FA president asked Popal to stop the girls and focus on football. Shortly after camp, the FA decided to ban nine players after accused of being lesbians. "The president labelled them lesbians to silence them from speaking out about the sexual abuse in Jordan and other abuses by coaches. If they spoke out, no one would listen to them because being accused of being lesbian or gay in Afghanistan is a topic you don’t speak about."

These allegations made a huge impact on Afghan football. The women's team captain, Shabnam Mobarez, decided to reject any contract that she was asked to sign by the FA. Mobarez, who was born in Afghanistan and grew up in Denmark, describe the offers as taking away her rights as a woman and a human being.

Hummel, who sponsored the team, decided to stop her partnership with the team. A few years ago, Hummel produced a special kit that included an integrated hijab. Now they are calling for a change in Afghanistan.

While women's around the world are calling for equal rights, it seems that in the backyard there are hidden and dark places, where women are not fighting for equality but only for their rights.