Khalida Popal

Former captain of the Afghan National Team, former head of the women’s football committee and finance committee of the Afghan Football Federation AFF, now working for Hummel International and as a project coordinator for Cross Cultures Project Association in Denmark.

“I have risked my life for playing football and standing up for women’s rights. I even had to leave my country, my family and my lovely teammates in order to survive.”

To Khalida, who grew up in a highly conflict-struck area in Afghanistan, football has always been more than a means of distraction. Very early in life, her passion lead her to being discriminated against. When she was a kid and playing on the school ground, people who watched her from outside of the school walls, offended her using annoying and insulting words.

Khalida decided to address these circumstances and fought for the visibility and the media coverage of women’s football in Afghanistan.  Football became her way of political expression and her basis for human and women’s rights activism. To her, football was the only way to fight for women’s rights and to bring about change in society. By doing this, she faced extreme social opposition and had to leave her home country. Khalida now works as a volonteer in Asylum camps in Denmark, and she is a project coordinator of the NGO Cross Cultures Project that promotes barrier-free grassroots sports.

“I believe that football is a means that can mobilize women to form a united front, to have a strong voice and to overcome barriers in a joint effort.”

“I moved forward to prove that girls can be strong in their decisions and that they cannot only work and study but they can also do any sports they want.”

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City: Kabul, Afghanistan
Founded in: 2005
Members: 500 registered players throughout the country
Greatest Success: Unity amongst women

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Afghan National Team

“No women, no peace.”

In 2005, the Afghan National Team was founded by only four women. Long-term war in the country had excluded women from public activity. For more than three decades, women had been the foremost victims of war: not allowed to get an education or to work outside their houses and prevented from going out without being accompanied by a man. Thus, football had been reserved to men.

The initiators of the first women national team experienced the political explosiveness of their activities as they received death threats and were faced with social exclusion. The individual initiative has convinced the federation and sports ministry to address the challenges for sportswomen, which are a lack of security, cultural barriers and poverty. The Afghan Football Federation has built up a section for the promotion of women’s football that contains 24 female football teams throughout the country, except for rural areas.

The women organize football events like football festivals, tournaments and friendly matches, which are sometimes combined with educational work to campaign for the right of women to get an education, to do sports, and to participate in society as men do.

“Through football we also fight for the rights of those innocent women who suffer in violent marriages where they are beaten or sometimes killed, and we want to be the voice of all those voiceless women who are suffering. Football has always been known as a men's game in our society and we started playing football to proof that men and women have equal rights: if a man can play football, why not a women? And what is wrong if women play the beautiful game for happiness, health and freedom?”