For Afghan women, Olympics mean opportunity
She may not break any records or win any medals. But sprinter Robina Muqimyar will make history in Athens this summer when she and a judo player become the first two Afghan women to compete in an Olympic Games.
Women and girls faced severe restrictions under the Taliban, who banned them from work and school and forced them to hide themselves in the all-shrouding burka. Despite the hard-line regime's demise, women's freedoms are still limited in Afghanistan, where forced marriages are common and a significant proportion of women live behind the veil.
The drab arena where Muqimyar and her fellow athletes train is a reminder of the grim past that they are helping to bury. The Taliban, who banned most sports, used it to publicly flog and execute people who had broken their Draconian laws.
"This stadium was once used to hang people," Jekdalek said as he looked out over the arena from his office window. "Those [soccer] goals were used for executions. Now it is being used for something positive."
With a personal best of 15.6 seconds for the 100-meter sprint -- five seconds over the women's world record -- Muqimyar has no illusions about returning from Greece with a medal. But she hopes her appearance will encourage Afghan women to be bold. Jekdalek said he is excited but nervous about putting women on his team -- a female judo athlete may go as a wild card -- because powerful conservative leaders still object to women competing in public or on television.
"It's difficult for a woman to go off and do this. But we have to be brave, we have to stand up for our rights," said Mahbuba, Muqimyar's mother, who watched her daughter train from the stands, her blue burka pushed back over her shoulders.
Muqimyar said that working with men and her few trips abroad have changed her mentality. She has both male and female trainers and said Azizi has become "like a brother." She wants to drive her own car -- a rarity for women in Afghanistan -- and choose her own husband.
She dismissed those who disapprove of women's participation in sports as "the same people who ruined the country," referring to the Taliban. "They want to hold women back and stop them from doing things. I don't accept that," she said. "We will send a strong message to the world that I represent all Afghan girls."
Comment: She already has won a medal, of courage and determination, in a closed society like Afghanistan where the war lords are still roaming around, inflicting damages, subjugating their women with archaic laws, and the West has not done good either. It won't be guns and tanks that could change Afghanistan, it would take girl like Muqimyar breaking down the fundamentalist's hold from their society where once liberal Islam was practiced.