By Abdul Haleem
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, March 28 (Xinhua) -- Soha, 16, is among the few girls exercising in the newly-constructed gymnasium in the Taliban birthplace in southern Kandahar city to promote sport and challenge an archaic patriarchal ideology in her deeply conservative society.
"I'm a grade 11 student here in Kandahar and at the same time I enjoy sports and I'm a member of basketball team here in the province and practice almost every day to demonstrate the fact that women have no lack of talent," Soha told Xinhua recently.
Dressed in a black uniform, with her head covered with a white scarf, the sporty girl admitted that "it is difficult to overcome cultural obstacles" in a traditional society where people deeply believe in old fashioned traditions "no matter if some are harmful."
Kandahar, from where the Taliban group emerged in 1994 and went on to rule some 90 percent of Afghanistan until its collapse in late 2001, had served as the extremist group's spiritual capital where many activities including sport for women had been outlawed.
"My demand from the government is to appoint coaches here in Kandahar to help us learn basketball, volleyball, cricket and other kinds of sport," said the ambitious athlete.
She also lamented that female athletes here in Kandahar don't even have sports attire or appropriate facilities to improve their abilities, saying, "I have my own team but we don't even have proper uniforms or grounds to play on freely."
Soha also complained that the security atmosphere, low rate of literacy, ruling traditions and other cultural obstacles have undermined women's talents and their activities in the traditional society.
She also called upon the establishment, public opinion leaders and society to encourage and support women, half of the country's population, promote sport for them and play their due role in developing a more balanced Afghanistan.
Despite being the birthplace and former stronghold of the Taliban, Kandahar had a sports stadium for girls in the past. However, the facility, like other institutions, had been destroyed in the protracted war and by a growing number of extremist groups in the country over the past three decades.
"I come to the gymnasium everyday to exercise and improve my ability in playing basketball," another female athlete, Wira Ahmadi, told Xinhua.
Nevertheless, she also disclosed the problems that female athletes are facing in Kandahar and adjoining provinces in the southern region.
Listing the multifaceted problems facing female athletes, she said, "We girls are also facing opposition from our family members to visit sports stadiums as many families do not allow their girls to leave home alone, but above all the main challenge that we are facing is the security problem."
"Come what may, I am determined to continue exercising and send the message that women have as much talent as men," Ahmadi shrugged proudly.
Voicing her support for all female athletes, Sahar Nikzad, the head of the Sport section of the Education Department in Kandahar province, urged the government to help promote sport for females from grassroots to international level, so they too can represent Afghanistan.