Para-athlete Benafsha Najafi defies Taliban and calls for help

She says the Taliban have banned her and colleagues simply because they are women

As the Taliban continue to crack down on Afghan women’s rights, one of the country's female para-athletes has released a video calling on the international community to help.

In her message, Benafsha Najafi also appeals for assistance in evacuating vulnerable people and for economic support for the country.

In the video shared with The National, the athlete said she was speaking on behalf of Paralympic athletes in Afghanistan.

Since the Taliban takeover in August, the lives of her and fellow athletes have “completely changed”, Najafi said.

“Our whole lives have perished with a blink of an eye. We are no longer allowed to work, which is against the human rights of an individual.”

“We can no longer go to university with peace of mind. Additionally, the Taliban does not give us our rights to exercise and practise our sports,” Najafi said.

She said the extremist regime has banned her and teammates simply because they are women.

“For this reasons the Taliban have banned us from sports.

"They are hardliners and due to their fanatic interpretation of Islam, they have no value for women,” Najafi said.

The athlete said that she had moved to a different location due to security concerns, and is scared for her future.

The head of the Afghan team at the recent Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games told The National that he was in contact with a dozen Paralympic athletes – many of whom are women – looking to leave the country.

Arian Sadiqi also called on the international community to help, saying that he saw no future for para-athletes in Afghanistan.

Para-athletes are particularly significant in Afghanistan, as four decades of war has left the country with one of the world’s largest populations per capita of people with disabilities.

Common disabilities include amputations, vision or hearing problems, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In May 2020, The Asia Foundation development organisation found that in Afghanistan, 80 per cent of adults live with some form of disability. This included almost 14 per cent with severe disabilities.

In addition, more than 17 per cent of children have disabilities.

Disabled discrimination predates Taliban takeover

Before the Taliban takeover, disabled women already faced extreme barriers to being included in society.

Non-government organisation Human Rights Watch reported that Afghan women and girls with disabilities face entrenched discrimination and sexual harassment in accessing assistance, education, employment and health care.

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing how women’s rights have been upended since the Taliban takeover in mid-August.

There seems little prospect of the situation improving for women athletes.

Ahmadullah Wasiq, deputy head of the Taliban’s cultural commission, told Australian broadcaster SBS in early September that women’s sport was considered neither appropriate nor necessary, speaking specifically about the women’s cricket team.

“I don’t think women will be allowed to play cricket because it is not necessary that women should play cricket,” Wasiq said.

“In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered.”

Updated: September 25th 2021, 4:11 AM