Fighting, and kicking, for women's rights in Afghanistan
(CBS News) KABUL - Zahra Mahmoodi is 21-years-old, wears heavy eyeliner and a headscarf, and is the captain of the newly-formed Afghan National Women's Soccer team: the country's first national soccer team for women.
Afghanistan is a country full of "firsts" and "only's". This month, I have been to the first and only bowling alley in Afghanistan, the first and only golf course, and to meet the first and only female governor.
Zahra has been playing soccer for six years. She wanted to join a team earlier, but as a young refugee in Iran and then as a teen in Afghanistan, her only option was to play behind closed doors with her brothers.
"It means a lot of things to me, beside playing and enjoying the game," she told me. "When I play soccer I become free of everything."
She and her teammates have not had it easy. In this conservative country, the girls risk ridicule and much, much worse if they play on public fields. Each player has struggled to get permission from her father.
"People in this country think soccer is not for girls, it is a sport for men. If a family is open-minded enough to allow their daughter to play," she explains, "The security situation makes them worry. We don't have any facilities. We face many, many problems."
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Still, she says, soccer is a great unifying force. The girls on her team are different ethnic groups, different religious sects, yet love and trust each other like family no small feat here. Like many of her generation, she worries about what will happen when the Americans leave in 2014, but she's hopeful.
"The young generation had a good experience [these last few years]," she says. "They are tired of war. The youth are hopeful that development can go forward and the good experience will continue."
Zahra and her teammates were recently invited to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for a soccer clinic hosted by US World Cup Champion and Olympian Lorrie Fair. In two months, Zahra will graduate from college and plans to be a soccer coach, like Lorrie. She's not going to give up on this sport - not now, not when NATO is gone - there is too much at stake.
"Just existing as a team is not enough," she insists. "It's important that women fight for their rights. We can't just sit and wait. We have to fight. As a team, we think about being the champions, not just playing. As women, we have to do the same."
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