For years, Soraya operated a sports club for women in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. When the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban returned to power twenty years after their ouster in 2001, she knew that her club was doomed.
“By 11am we had to say our goodbyes to our students,” she told The Guardian. “We didn’t know when we would see each other again.”
Following the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the original regime in November 2001, the Taliban regrouped and began taking back territory less than ten years after their ouster. By August 2021, the Taliban had seized most major cities, emboldened by President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw the remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan as outlined in a 2020 peace agreement with the Taliban. Facing little resistance, the Taliban captured Kabul and quickly created a council to facilitate the transition to a Taliban-run Islamic government.
Despite promising a more “inclusive government this time around, the Taliban’s interim government wasted little time imposing strict measures on society, which include harassing and threatening women based on arbitrary dress codes, and setting limitations on women in workplaces such as government and educational institutions. Schools have been reopened for boys only, while afghan women have also been banned from participating in sports. This included a ban on the country’s women’s cricket team.
“I don’t think women will be allowed to play cricket because it is not necessary that women should play cricket. In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this. Islam and the Islamic Emirate [Afghanistan] do not allow women to play cricket or play the kind of sports where they get exposed,” said Ahmadullah Wasiq, the deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission.
As the Taliban continues to purge women from sports and society, the country’s male MMA fighters also fear the end of their careers. Wahid Nazhand, one of the most prominent fighters in Afghanistan, owns and operates an MMA gym in Kabul but has shuttered his doors since the Taliban took over.
Believe me, we train for a minute, and the next minute, we keep our eyes on the door, God forbid anyone should come in,” Nazhand told Insider in a recent interview.
The Taliban’s antiquated approach to women’s rights has led to an increase in demonstrations across the country, with women facing gunfire and beatings for protesting. Female martial artists are training in secret since the Taliban takeover, while others are pondering ways to reach other Afghan women online.
“I have already asked the Afghanistan Karate Federation to give me permission to operate a girl’s training programme at home, perhaps even in full hijab. However, they tell me that even men are not yet allowed to practise, so it is unlikely that women will be permitted,” Maryam, a taekwondo fighter, told The Guardian.
“I am willing to do it secretly even if it means upsetting the Taliban, but I don’t want my students to fall victims to their wrath if caught,” she added.