It was a cold November afternoon, in 1999; thousands had gathered in Ghazi Stadium in Kabul after the Friday prayers. A mullah stood at the center of the ground and announced the executions of the day. It was a common practice to bring those convicted by the Taliban courts onto the stadium grounds for public executions. With most sporting activities banned under the Taliban regime, soccer fields were used for carrying out capital punishment.

On this particular day, it was a woman who was convicted for the crime of murdering her abusive husband, slated to be executed by order of the courts that found her guilty. Zarmeena, as she was later identified by several media outlets, was brought to the center of the stadium, covered in a sky blue burqa, and shot in the head as men, women, and children looked on.

Fast forward to 2007. Young Afghan girls take to a similar Kabul stadium in their new sports gear for their first soccer match, one that they have been training for months for. “We won that match against International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) women’s team 5-0. But more importantly, we had started something new in Afghanistan,” says Hajar Abulfazil, a 23-year-old Afghan who is among the first generation of female soccer players since the fall of Taliban in 2001. There are now 1050 registered female soccer players in Afghanistan, mainly from six provinces of Bamyan, Ghazni, Jowzjan, Balkh, Herat, and Kabul, as well as localized soccer clubs for women; in Kabul alone there are 22 clubs that play against each other.

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