Anyone who watched the IAAF Indoor World Championship 2012 in Istanbul may have been surprised at the footage of Tahmina Kohistani running the 60 meter race. I certainly was. The first thing that stood out for me was that she was completely covered up, as well as wearing a hijab. The second thing that I realised was that she was running for Afghanistan, a country where just over ten years ago it was illegal to wear make-up. It can definitely be argued that Kohistani’s clothing afflicted her performance in the race, but I strongly believe that one of the main reasons for her running was not to win; it was because she had the freedom to be there and the freedom to run as a woman representing her country.

The word ‘oppression’ doesn’t even begin to explain the amount of suffering Afghani women underwent under the Taliban regime. During the peak of their control, women were not allowed to be seen in public unless in the company of their father, brother or husband. It was not unheard of for women to be stoned to death due to being seen in public with a man who wasn’t her mahram[1]. There were harsher rules that were forced upon them that sound even more ridiculous to understand, especially to someone living in a western country that has been working towards women’s equality since the late 19th century. For example Afghani women were banned from laughing, believing that no man should hear the sound of a woman’s voice. It was not unheard of for women to have their fingers cut off due to wearing nail polish, and heels were banned so no one had to be aware of a woman’s presence.[2] There was also a ban on women playing sports or entering a sports’ centre, which makes Kohistani’s entry in the IAAF indoor championships so surprising and revolutionary.

From seeing Tahmina Kohistani represent her country this year, it is clear how far her country has developed. Oxfam stated that there had been ‘strong gains in girls’ education, with some 2.7 million girls in school compared to a few thousand in the Taliban’s time’[3]. This statistic alone shows how Afghanistan has progressed in the past ten years since the control of the Taliban. Although Kohistani was never going to be a medal winner in Istanbul, the fact that she has the freedom and ability to represent her country against the rest of the world is a step closer for Afghani women to have equality and the same rights as men.

There have been issues raised lately, however, on whether this progress will be maintained in the future. In the same poll by Poverty Aid they stated that out of the 1000 women they interviewed ‘37% think Afghanistan will become a worse place if international troops leave… 86% are worried about a return to Taliban-style government’[4] A fifth of the women interview also expressed concerns for their daughters’ future and them doubting whether they’ll get any form of education[5]. These worries should not be the thoughts of a woman living in the 21st century. Will women like Kohistani still be representing their country in ten years’ time? Or will the process made so far be reverted back to when the Taliban controlled the country? It’s a problem that can only be solved by constantly raising awareness of the problems of inequality internationally. But for now women can have hope as they see Tahmina Kohistani sprinting with other women from around the world. Maybe in a few more years, she will be running for gold!


[1] Rashid, Ahmed,  ‘Taliban: Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia’ (London: I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2000), p.105

[2] Ahmed, Appendix 1

[3] http://www.oxfam.org.uk/applications/blogs/pressoffice/2011/10/03/ten-years-of-gains-for-afghan-women-under-threat-warns-oxfam/

.[4] A just peace? The Legacy of War for the Women of Afghanistan (London: Action Aid, September 2011), p.2

[5] A just peace? The Legacy of War for the Women of Afghanistan (London: Action Aid, September 2011), p.2