The Afghan women’s national team has taken a great risk to tell their stories.
The allegations of physical and sexual abuse have all been against the federation’s president, Keramuudin Karim, who was suspended by FIFA along with four other members of the federation. The Guardian published the initial article alleging abuse a month ago, and on December 27th, journalist Suzanne Wrack released another piece for the Guardian detailing exactly what the women are claiming.
The piece is difficult to read. The women speak about a secret bedroom that the president had attached to his office, with a door that seemed to blend into the wall and that could only be opened by his fingerprint. When women resisted the sexual advances of the president, they were beaten and threatened. If they spoke about releasing their story, the president tried to ruin their reputations and threatened their families.
Suzanne Wrack has done an excellent job covering this story. And it has gained social media traction, with players like Alex Morgan sharing both the articles and her own outrage. The Attorney General of Afghanistan has said he is investigating the problem, but the players have low expectations. The president is a former government official, and many think it is unlikely that the president won’t be able to find a way out of this situation. FIFA’s reputation for corruption is no better.
It is important that the global women’s soccer community keeps this story alive. Suzanne Wrack is doing a fantastic job providing coverage in a major media outlet. But support from other national teams—by those players, fans, or journalists—could help keep FIFA’s feet to the fire. The Afghan women need our support right now and it is important that we do not let this story fade into the background.
According to UN Women, 35% of women will suffer physical or sexual abuse from a non-partner in their lifetime. So, it seems unlikely that Afghanistan is the only federation dealing with sexual and physical abuse. This isn’t just an Afghanistan problem. It’s a global problem. And we do a disservice to the women of Afghanistan and female athletes all around the world if we ignore it.
One woman had a powerful quote in the latest Guardian article. “I know that my family is in danger and I know they will be when more comes out. But I want to stand and speak about it because of the future of girls. I want girls to have a safe environment.”
The Afghan players have risked everything to tell their story. And it’s up to us to make sure they know that the women’s football community has their back. These players need our help.
Will we stand by and let them be ignored?