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Afghan female skier fights taboos – with aid of mullahs

Thursday, Dec 8, 2016,14:38 IST By metrovaartha A A A

Kabul | Masooma Hasani would be pelted with rocks whenever she went skiing, a sport considered unbecoming for girls in conservative Afghan society, but an unlikely ally helped change local attitudes: mullahs advocating women’s rights.

Skidding down the snow-blanketed slopes of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, 18-year-old Hasani for years suffered hostility and abuse from passing men unaccustomed to unveiled women dressed in figure-hugging ski suits.

“‘Girls don’t have the right to do sports. Girls are born to learn household chores such as cooking and cleaning.’ That’s what people would say,” Hasani told a rapt audience during a Kabul University event today marking Human Rights Day.

“People would beat up my brothers and say our family was shameless to allow girls to ski. It made me cry.”

Hasani, diminutive but feisty, stood her ground. But what really helped her were Friday sermons of Bamiyan’s religious leaders who command respect and influence in local communities.

As part of a project to promote gender equality, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has trained more than 400 mullahs across Afghanistan to preach about women’s rights.

The sermons help bring awareness about the social and economic rights of women, and often include eye-opening conversations with men on subjects such as “how Islam encourages many sports”.

“Mullahs are some of the most powerful voices in Afghan communities – particularly in the more isolated areas where women suffer the greatest abuses,” UNDP Afghanistan country director Douglas Keh told AFP.

“By working with these key figures across Afghanistan, we have been able to promote the idea that men and women have equal rights.”