Afghan women face violence to defend their national soccer team from the Taliban

Zoya Agha is a 27-year-old player on the all-girl Afghan soccer team. Agha first received threats from Taliban militia in Afghanistan after she played on the team that made it to the U.S. Women’s World Cup championship in 1991, but last month she and the team’s other women got an even bigger scare when militants reportedly tried to take over their house in Kabul. This time, they believed, the Taliban’s command was more deadly. A new report from CNN says militants reportedly threatened to kidnap Agha and two other players and offer them a deal: a marriage to a high-ranking Taliban leader.

The women, of course, decided to stay put. One can’t help but marvel at the bravery that it takes to not flee an attack by a brutal enemy, but some in the international community seem to be finding reasons to defend the Taliban’s demand. Media headlines are exploding with accounts from Afghan news outlets of the ISIS-like group entering villages, stealing weapons and perhaps raping young girls as part of its “sovereign state” campaign. While some Taliban figures denied claims of any such action, many parents are worried. “I am scared about the Taliban coming back to my village,” one father told the Washington Post last week.

In the midst of such reports, the Afghan soccer team has spoken out, boldly declaring in its sports magazine, “We need to fight for our freedom and we are strong enough to stand up for it.”

The bravado doesn’t just come from the players, but also from their teammates, who are taking active steps to ensure that the ladies on the team are able to defend themselves. Agha told CNN that, after they heard the Taliban was coming to their home, she and some of her teammates got into the vehicle the Taliban reportedly intended to steal and drove into the village, where they were joined by members of the other Afghan team. “They, like us, are soldiers in the ranks of the Afghan women,” she said.

While the U.S. Department of State warned that “Taliban violence against civilians has increased” in the lead-up to the July 20 presidential elections, Afghan women appear to be taking their own steps to take a stand.

“I was not ready to stay and wait for them to rape me,” said a woman from the Afghan women’s soccer team that took on the Taliban last month, referring to the Taliban’s reported offer to free the players if they agreed to marry a Taliban leader.

She added, “Our idea of defying the Taliban in this way has been inspired by the rest of the world, like Iran and the United States.”

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