Danish sportswear company Hummel has designed a soccer jersey with a hijab for the Afghan women’s team so they can play the game while observing their faith.
The design also includes leggings.
“This jersey is the Afghani team uniform and I am proud to be a role model for thousands of young girls and women back home in Afghanistan,” stated Khalida Popal, the team’s former captain. “It is very special to me. It is our identity.”
— Khaama Press (KP) (@khaama) March 8, 2016
Many of the women live in Europe because most women cannot play soccer in Afghanistan.
“Football was not easy for us to play, especially in a male-dominated country,” continued Popal. “It was not acceptable for women to play. Football is a man’s game.”
— Clare Connor (@ConnorCricket) March 8, 2016
If women do play, they must “wear a headscarf,” which falls over their eyes.
“So we thought of this solution, the sports hijab that is part of the whole package we made for the Afghan Football Federation,” explained Hummel owner Christian Stadil. “We wanted to make one that is cool and fashionable.”
Popal left Afghanistan in 2011 at 23-years-old after she received death threats for standing up for women’s rights.
“I faced so many death threats and warnings that I had to stop my activities for women – otherwise, they said they would kill me and my family,” she told People magazine.
She fled to Denmark with her family and found sanctuary at an asylum camp.
“You feel so alone and so unhappy in an asylum camp,” she said. “The women there didn’t have any opportunities, so I encouraged them to come fight their stress and depression by playing soccer.”
When Popal fell in love with soccer in 2004 at age 16, Afghanistan was still deeply affected by the Taliban era, during which time women’s sports were banned and football stadiums were used for public executions. After watching their brothers play the sport, Popal and three other girls began practicing soccer after hours behind their school’s high walls.
As the group began playing more and in more visible places, it became very clear their community was not ready to embrace their love of the sport.
“People threw garbage and stones at us and warned us that we had to stop playing soccer or they would kill us,” Popal explained.
She registered eight women’s soccer teams in the country with help from the Afghanistan Football Association. The country gained its first women’s national team in 2007.
But not everyone approved, forcing the team to practice at a NATO base.
“While we’d be playing soccer there would helicopters landing – and two or three times there were bomb explosions by the Taliban just in front of the door of the compound,” she said.
The team competed at international tournaments and beat the NATO’s women’s team. The backlash continued and she left for Denmark.
She continues to work and fight for women’s rights in Afghanistan. With the help from Hummel and international non-governmental organization she hopes those who follow her “won’t have to fight in the same way she did by organizing soccer associations for both genders in schools around the world.”