8-1-2012By Rasika Teredesai
Human Rights Defenders
This blog is part of the Olympics 2012 and Human Rights series.One of the many bright spots in this year’s more gender-inclusive Olympics is Tahmina Kohistani, 23, a track-and-field athlete from Afghanistan. The only female in the Afghanistan delegation, she’s experienced both abuse and encouragement in her pursuit of athletic achievement.
Kohistani acknowledges that she probably won’t get past the preliminaries in the 100-meter dash this Friday, but she’s not at the Olympics to win a medal. She’s there, she said, to “open a new way for the women of Afghanistan.”
She started running eight years ago, with an impressing debut at the junior world championships in Poland. She enjoys running while listening to Indian or American music, especially Jennifer Lopez. Still, she is particular about observing Islamic traditions—she will be running dressed in a hijab out of respect for her religion and the holy month of Ramadan.
Before leaving for London, Tahmina Kohistani enthusiastically told a taxi driver that she would be competing in the Olympics, expecting praise or congratulations. Instead, he threw her out of the taxi. This was only one example of abuse that Kohistani has faced. People have disturbed her while training in Kabul Stadium, taunting her and saying that women should not play sports.
At first, this discouraged her, and she let herself think that these naysayers may be right. Her trainer reminded her, however, that there will always be people who do not want her to succeed. And there are also people cheer for her. This support has convinced her that she must continue pursuing her dream, for herself and all Afghan women.
Afghan society’s reluctance to let women participate in sports has not been Kohistani’s only obstacle. Sports development in Afghanistan has been stymied by decades of warfare, and the Taliban banned sports from 1996 to 2001. Afghanistan rejoined international competition in the 2004 Olympics after a twenty-four year absence. Kohistani is proud to represent Afghanistan because she is a symbol of the freedom and peace that Afghans aspire to. Upon returning to Afghanistan, she hopes to develop sports programs for women and girls, and others have pledged to support her in this goal.
Kohistani was not the only female Olympic hopeful from Afghanistan this year. Sadaf Rahimi received a wild-card invitation to train at the International Boxing Association’s (AIBA’s) two-week boxing camp. This year is the first time women’s boxing is an Olympic event. Though Rahimi felt that her performance improved during this training, AIBA determined that she could not compete because her safety would be compromised by fighting more experienced boxers. Despite this blow, Rahimi is still among the vanguard of Afghan women athletes.
Rahimi and Kohistani are inspirations for Afghan women and girls who dream of equal opportunities in sports. Whether or not Kohistani advances beyond the heats this Friday, she will return to Afghanistan as an Olympian.
Watch Kohistani compete this Friday, August 3rd, at 10:40 GMT.