This article appeared in the August 25, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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A voice for Afghanistan’s ‘voiceless sisters’

Tariq Mikkel Khan/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images/File
Khalida Popal, former captain of the Afghan women’s soccer team, sits at the Right To Dream Park in Farum, Denmark, Dec. 21, 2020.

Last summer, Khalida Popal knew the Taliban were winning before they got to Kabul. As program director of the Afghan women’s national soccer team, she hoped “my girls” had begun to make plans to leave.

It had been 10 years since Ms. Popal herself had fled, attacked at gunpoint for daring to play soccer and not be ashamed. But this was different. The players who remained had continued to speak against the Taliban. Western powers held them up as a model of a new Afghanistan. Now, “all of a sudden, the enemy was outside their door,” she says.

Ms. Popal’s story could so easily be one more example of the failed promise of equal rights for Afghan women – herself a refugee in Denmark, her team in danger of terrible retribution. 

Instead, she’s writing a dramatically different ending. With her help, all her players escaped Afghanistan safely. Next month, she’ll travel to Australia, where the team is thriving as a special member of an Australian league, supported by one of the country’s biggest professional clubs, Melbourne Victory. And her own Girl Power organization in Denmark is helping female refugees find opportunities to play sports across Europe.

But in that moment 12 months ago, the women of her team “were crying. They desperately needed help. And I asked myself, what can I do from Denmark?”

She could think of one answer: “I am the voice for voiceless sisters. I have a tool.” She could do media interviews. She could call for help.

And help came, first in getting her team out of Afghanistan, then in bringing them together again on the field – half a world away in Australia. Ms. Popal had already been a refugee once – when she was a young girl and the Taliban rose to power the first time. “I have lived this life,” she says. Now, “I’m trying to use my experience to help these young women.”

This article appeared in the August 25, 2022 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 08/25 edition
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