I was unsure of what to expect the first time I stepped into a women’s gym in Kabul. While I’ve known a lot of women in Kabul to be vivacious (contrary to how the media often portrays them)—especially in gender-segregated spaces—there are still few who are considered to be athletic. Of course, there are Afghan women who’ve consistently broken stereotypes and excelled as athletes, yet they remain a minority that has to continue to struggle against a system that works against them.
As I approached the tiny office of the gym instructor at the end of a wide room filled with all sorts of exercising equipments and the women working on their gains, I wondered if we were still in Kabul. Many were dressed in tracksuits with matching sneakers, others in shorts and tank tops, and yet others in the traditional salwaar kameez native to this region.
There was music playing—Justin Bieber, I think—and there was a lot of chatter. In the corner, there was a crib that held three children between the ages of 1 and 3 being looked after by a teenage girl who also appeared to be running the juice bar next to it. As I changed into my basic gym wear, I noticed that the coat rack held long black coats, black abayas and the blue burqas. A lot of the women tell me they’re required permission from their families, especially their male guardians, to be able to go to the gym. This also meant that, for some, attending the gym was an act of defiance—moving in and out of the establishment discreetly and anonymously.
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