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The Women’s March Seen Through Sport

Non-profit media and advocacy organization Shirzanan teams up with advocacy organization Athlete Ally to march in the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. The athletes joined thousands of others in the nation’s capitol to support messages of equality and empowerment. (Photo Courtesy: Taylor Carr)

By Jillian Angeline, AIPS Young Reporter, USA 

WASHINGTON, January 26, 2016 — Athletes marching in solidarity make goals happen both on and off the pitch. The first captain of the Afghanistan women’s national football team Shamila Kohestani aims for female equality in sport. She marched alongside other athletes in the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. last weekend.

 “I grew up in a country where I always have to ask for my rights. It was never given to me. So that’s what I still have in me, even living in this country” Kohestani told AIPS the night before the march. The Afghanistan football federation established the national women’s football team in 2006 and Kohestani was picked as the captain. She told AIPS it was the first time in Afghanistan that women were playing a male-dominated sport—and that she and her teammates wanted to show women are strong and powerful.

 “That was our goal because women were always considered second class citizens, you know, you don’t have the same ability as man, so we wanted to make a point. That was our goal.” Kohestani marched last weekend to promote human rights, equality and LGBTQIA rights.

 Kohestani has seen the impact she is having on the future generations of female football players in Afghanistan. She revealed that a younger Afghan female player contacted her and thanked her for what she has done to pave the way for more females to play football in the Middle East country.

 The Women’s Marches not only took place in the nation’s capital. Thousands of women marched in other cities nationwide and worldwide last Saturday. Kohestani marched on behalf of the non-profit media and advocacy organization for female Muslim athletes Shirzanan.

 The first female captain of the Afghanistan women’s team believes sport is a tool.

“I want to make sure that every Muslim athlete and every other woman around the world has a voice and that’s my goal, to empower them through sport,” said Kohestani.

 Shirzanan marched alongside advocacy organization Athlete Ally. Mara Gubuan is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Shirzanan. “We’re joining forces because we all work against discrimination in sport. I’m personally marching because of course I believe in human rights, equality and inclusion and because access to sport is a human right.”

 Sport as a platform

 Washington Spirit football player Joanna Lohman marched with goals in mind. “For me clearly gay rights and civil rights are very important to me so I want to use my platform to make a positive difference.”

A collective voice is a powerful voice, according to Lohman. Sport can change culture and break barriers, she told AIPS. Lohman travels with the State Department’s Sport Envoy program working with women worldwide and using football as a vehicle to promote leadership and to show that strength is beauty. She was recently in Botswana working with young women.

“I think the position that I’m in as a female professional athlete in the United States, I realize that I have opportunities that so few have globally and I use that as platform to impact and to have my voice be heard.” Lohman told AIPS it’s important for her to put her hand up in the LGBTQIA community.

Athlete Ally’s Program and Research Coordinator Liam Miranda said the goals and ideals stressed during the March are not done. In fact, he said the March marks the beginning of four years of work. The Founder and Executive Director Hudson Taylor echoed that sentiment.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen and I think that myself and I think everyone else who’s marching hopes for, obviously, the best in [President Drumpf’s administration]. We want greater prosperity and good things to happen. But we also understand that athletes have tremendous amount of influence in society,” said Athlete Ally’s Taylor.

The sport community still has a long way to go in ensuring equal access and opportunity in sports like football, says Taylor. “Anytime that goal is not being met, we stand in solidarity with those who are fighting to change that.”

Washington Spirit’s Lohman hopes the march inspires advocates “to do what sets your soul on fire”.

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