The world has watched with collective mourning as news comes out of Afghanistan: news of people clambering onto aircrafts in a desperate bid to leave their country; of painters taking a white wash of acrylic over ads depicting women; of women and girls around the country fearing for their lives and all they had envisioned for their future. As the Taliban has come to take control of Afghanistan, many fear that women’s rights will soon disappear, too. Despite tireless campaigns over the last few decades to see them granted greater rights and the establishment of the 2009 Eliminate of Violence Against Women Law to see legal protection given to women and girls from domestic violence, the reality is that already we’ve seen women suffer under Taliban rule. And for the 26 young women who make up the country’s girls soccer team, theirs is a desperate bid to make it out as the sport they love now positions their lives as one in danger.
An international effort is now underway to evacuate the members of Afghanistan’s national girls soccer team, along with their family members and soccer federation staff. Plans to evacuate the country were derailed when a suicide bombing took place at Kabul airport, killing 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members during an airlift. Frightened and desperate to escape Taliban rule, the girls worry if efforts from U.S. military and intelligence officials, along with allies and humanitarian groups can see the national team and their loved ones reach safety.
In an interview with Huff Post, Robert McCreary, a former congressional chief of staff and White House official under President George W. Bush who has worked with special forces in Afghanistan, noted: “They’re just unbelievably young ladies who should be playing in the backyard, playing on the swing set, playing with their friends, and here they’re in a very bad situation for doing nothing more than playing soccer.” He added, “We need to do everything that we can to protect them, to get them to a safe situation.”
While some members of the Afghan women’s team were evacuated to Australia last week, many fear the girls and their families will be targeted by the Taliban as, under their rule, women and girls are forbidden to play sports. Aside from being sportswomen, the team is also one comprised of advocates, with many championing women’s rights and participation in activities like sport.
In recent days, there have been at least five recent attempts to rescue the girls as they were moved around for their safety. They were close to evacuation when the suicide bombing took place. Now, complicating the rescue even further, is the fact that many don’t have passports or other necessary documentation to board flights from Kabul. The operation has since been called Operation Soccer Balls and it’s hoped other countries will aid such efforts, and allow the girls to settle in the US. Australia, France and Qatar have also expressed interest in helping.
“We can put a protective bubble around these women and young girls…I really believe the world will stand up and take notice and have a lot of offers to take them in and host them,” said McCreary.
As Nic McKinley, a CIA and Air Force veteran who founded Dallas-based DeliverFund, a non-profit that’s secured housing for Afghan families, explains, more countries need to assist in helping relocate the girls to ensure their safety. “What about the little girl who just wants to kick a ball around a field and wants to do that well, and has worked hard to do that at a world class level who finds herself suddenly in jeopardy only because she just wanted to play a sport and had a passion for playing that sport?”
He added, “The only thing that they had done wrong in the eyes of the Taliban…is the fact that they were born girls and they had the audacity to dream of doing something.”