- The former captain of the Afghan women's soccer team is urging her teammates to burn their kits.
- She also advised them to delete their photos to protect themselves from the Taliban.
- Popal herself was forced to seek asylum in Denmark in 2016, after she received death threats in her role as director of the country's football association.
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The former captain of Afghanistan's women's national soccer team is urging female players to protect themselves by burning their uniforms and wiping their social media of traces that they ever played sports.
"Today I'm calling them and telling them, take down their names, remove their identities, take down their photos for their safety. Even I'm telling them to burn down or get rid of your national team uniform," Khalida Popal told Reuters in a video interview on August 18.
Popal added that she had always advocated for young women to stand strong and be visible. But now, she wants female sports players to stay safe by erasing their online history and flying under the radar.
"That is painful for me, for someone as an activist who stood up and did everything possible to achieve and earn that identity as a women's national team player," Popal told Reuters.
"To earn that badge on the chest, to have the right to play and represent our country, how much we were proud," she added.
Outspoken women and activists in Afghanistan are looking toward a grim future
But the joy did not last long. Popal received death threats for speaking about the Taliban on national television in her role as the event director of the country's women's football association. She fled Afghanistan and sought asylum in Denmark in 2016.
"I say to every woman to stay strong. Together, women are capable of so many things," said Popal to the AFP in an interview back in 2018. "Men believe us playing football is against their honor and women should stay in the kitchen and do dishwashing."
She added that she and her friends had been called prostitutes for participating in sports, and recounted how she encouraged women to fight back against oppression.
"(Women) are like a hand. If we are standing up as an individual, as in one finger, it is not strong enough. If it is two fingers, it is not strong enough," she told the AFP. "We have to be together like a punch. And if anyone stands in our way, to be like a punch in their face."
Female activists stuck in Afghanistan now fear for their lives under Taliban rule. Zarifa Ghafari, a 27-year-old female mayor and women's rights activist, told the UK media outlet iNews this week that the Taliban "will come for people like me and kill me."
A total of 46 senators are now urging the Biden administration to create a separate visa pathway for Afghan activists and women leaders to escape the country, saying they face "unparalleled danger."
Women's rights and freedoms were severely restricted when the Taliban was last in control of Afghanistan in 2001. Under its strict form of Sharia law, women were made to wear head-to-toe coverings and not allowed to leave the house unless a male relative accompanied them, per a 2001 US State Department report.