Olympic Sprinter Hopes to Pave the Way for Afghan Women

Posted August 6th, 2012 at 12:20 pm (UTC-5)
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When Tahmina Kohistani crossed the finish line during last week's Olympic women's 100 meters preliminary round, she had tears in her eyes. Kohistani was emotional not because of her last-place finish in Friday's heat, but because she competed as the only woman from her native country of Afghanistan.

The 23-year-old told VOA on Monday that she has faced numerous challenges on the road to London. She said she endured heckling from onlookers as she trained at the stadium in the Afghan capital, Kabul, with many saying she should stay at home.

A taxi driver even refused to take her to the stadium, after Kohistani told him she was to compete in the Olympics as Afghanistan's only female athlete. She said the driver told her “go out from my taxi, I don't need to get you there, because it's not good for me, you are not a good girl.”

Under Taliban-rule in the 1990s, women in Afghanistan were not allowed to work, get an education or even leave their homes without a male escort. Though women have made progress since U.S. forces ousted the Taliban-led government in 2001, Kohistani's stories of people telling her to stay home, instead of compete, shows that change in Afghan society is slow-going.

Still, this female sprinter is not deterred. Kohistani says she has a message for Afghan women, “I think I want to say to them, just come out of your houses, join Tahmina and we can make a very strong network with each other and we shall face all of the problems in our society and we can do something for our country.”

Although Kohistani did not come away from the 2012 London Olympics with a medal, she says she hopes her competition in the games will “open a new window for the women of Afghanistan.”