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First-ever Women’s Fitness Club opens in Kabul, aims to promote Health and Sports in Afghanistan’s Patriarchal Society

The teenager has been a member of the National Women’s Cyclist Association for more than three years and is currently practicing yoga at the fitness club

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Kabul, October 30, 2016: The first-ever fitness club for women has opened in Kabul with the objective of promoting health and sports among women in Afghanistan’s traditionally patriarchal society.

“It was my life’s ambition to open this club — Blue Moon Fitness Club — and serve women like me and it cost me $20,000,” the club’s owner, Tahmina Mahid Nuristani, told Xinhua news agency on Sunday.

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“Afghanistan is a conservative society, but in defiance of this, I opened the club nearly two months ago, with the hope of contributing to female empowerment here,” Nuristani, 20, said.

In conservative Afghanistan society where people, especially in rural areas, deeply believe in tribal traditions, some of which include prohibiting girls from going to school or working outside home, opening a fitness club for girls is a particularly brave move, especially for a female and took a great deal of courage.

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“My sole aim of opening the club is to support the women’s cause and to encourage them to come out of their houses, go to sports clubs and exercise,” Nuristani asserted.

Although Afghanistan has made tremendous achievements since the collapse of the Taliban regime in late 2001 and Afghan athletes have brought medals home from regional and international tournaments, including from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics, the percentage of female sports-persons is almost zero, mostly because of traditions and cultural barriers.

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“Men on the roads harass me everyday as I travel to and from the fitness club,” Rukhsar Habibzai, 19, a club member, said. She added that the men even go as far as to throw stones and hurl abusive language at her as she rides her bicycle to the club, just because she is a female.

“Even though these ignorant, sexist men with extreme views are trying to intimidate me from going to the fitness club, I am determined to continue my practice,” Habibzai added.

The teenager has been a member of the National Women’s Cyclist Association for more than three years and is currently practicing yoga at the fitness club.

“With courage and determination, we Afghan women can overcome the harmful traditions and cultural barriers to prove and elevate our existence in society,” she said.

Although women’s social status in Afghanistan has been improving and women are currently engaged in politics, business, arts and other pursuits previously prohibited, many families still do not allow their female members to work outside of home.

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The private fitness club, which opened 45 days ago, is rapidly gaining popularity among female sports enthusiasts and its members are on a constant rise, despite a backlash from traditional male quarters, according to Fakhria Ibrahim, a yoga instructor.

“Since the club opened, 50 women and girls have registered and regularly practice yoga, body building and other exercises, and the number is consistently rising in the face of traditional restrictions,” Ibrahim said. (IANS)

  • Ruchika Kumari

    Good job..this is really going to uplift the women condition in Afghanistan

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U.S. Military Officials, Come Up With A New Strategy Over Unfavorable Data

"Obviously, we haven't kicked the terrorists out if they're still blowing things up and we're negotiating with them. That strategic goal has now changed."

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Afghan National Army soldiers stand guard at a checkpoint on the Jalalabad-Kabul road, on the outskirts of Kabul, April 28, 2019. VOA

A decision by U.S. military officials in Afghanistan to stop tracking the amount of territory controlled by the Taliban is sparking an increasingly tense showdown with the watchdog overseeing reconstruction efforts.

The so-called district-level stability assessments, which measure the number of the country’s districts under government or insurgent control or influence, have been one of the most widely cited indicators of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

But the assessments are missing from the quarterly report issued Wednesday by Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the first time the report has failed to include the data since 2015.

In a letter to SIGAR in March, the U.S.-commanded Resolute Support mission said the information had been dropped because it was “of limited decision-making value.”

Ending data collection

A spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, Col. David Butler, further defended the decision to stop collecting the data Wednesday.

“The district stability assessment that was previously provided by (the Department of Defense) was redundant and did little to serve our mission of protecting our citizens and allies,” he said, adding, “the intelligence community produces a district stability assessment which is available to SIGAR.”

Only SIGAR, which has expressed growing alarm about the amount of information that is no longer being collected or which has been unnecessarily classified, said this is the first time military officials have raised such concerns.

“SIGAR has always gotten the district assessments from the RS (Resolute Support) command, not from the intelligence community,” SIGAR spokesman Philip LaVelle told VOA, via email.

“When RS provided their formal response to our data call on this issue, they made no mention of it being discontinued because it’s ‘redundant’ and no indication of it being made available to us from the intelligence community,” he added.

Intelligence officials contacted by VOA are looking into whether the information is being collected and might be available to SIGAR.

But the assertion such data is collected would appear to contradict the letter Resolute Support sent SIGAR in March.

“District stability data has not been collected since the October 22, 2018 data submitted last quarter,” Resolute Support wrote. “There are no products at command or other forums that communicate district stability or control information.”

FILE - Soldiers attached to the 101st Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade, Iowa National Guard and 10th Mountain, 2-14 Infantry Battalion load onto a Chinook helicopter to head out on a mission in Afghanistan, Jan. 15, 2019.
Soldiers attached to the 101st Resolute Support Sustainment Brigade, Iowa National Guard and 10th Mountain, 2-14 Infantry Battalion load onto a Chinook helicopter to head out on a mission in Afghanistan, Jan. 15, 2019. VOA

Loss of data

In a statement accompanying the report’s release, SIGAR decried the loss of the data.

“Despite its limitations, the control data was the only unclassified metric provided by (Resolute Support) that consistently tracked changes to the security situation on the ground,” it said.

SIGAR also noted that previous commanders of the Resolute Support mission “had previously cited its importance in public statements.”

The U.S.-led mission’s decision to eliminate the stability assessments comes after successive reports showed the Afghan government’s control of the country falling to record lows.

In its November 2018 report, SIGAR said the Afghan government controlled or influenced only 56 percent of the country’s districts, at the time the lowest level recorded since the watchdog began tracking district control in November 2015.

In SIGAR’s subsequent report, issued this past January, that number had slipped to less than 54 percent, as the Afghan government lost seven districts to the Taliban.

According to some, the figures suggest U.S. President Donald Trump’s strategy for Afghanistan, meant to increase pressure on the Taliban and force them to negotiate an end to decades of fighting, is not having the level of success claimed by administration officials.

FILE - An Afghan man rides on a bicycle past the site of a car bomb attack where U.S soldiers were killed near Bagram air base, Afghanistan, April 9, 2019.
An Afghan man rides on a bicycle past the site of a car bomb attack where U.S soldiers were killed near Bagram air base, Afghanistan, April 9, 2019. VOA

Concerning data

Other data collected for the latest SIGAR report also show reason for concern.

The average number of attacks initiated by the Taliban jumped 19 percent for the three-month period ending in January. The number of casualties suffered by Afghan forces were 31 percent higher than compared to the same period last year.

The report found Afghan civilian casualties were also up, increasing 5 percent from 2017 to almost 11,000, while the number of civilians deaths jumped 11 percent, to more than 3,800.

“Ultimately, I don’t think we’ve met all of our strategic goals there,” U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told reporters last week, ahead of the report’s release.

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“We were going to get the terrorists out and create a government that could keep the terrorists out,” he said. “Obviously, we haven’t kicked the terrorists out if they’re still blowing things up and we’re negotiating with them. That strategic goal has now changed.”

Sopko also raised concerns that increasing amounts of information about U.S. difficulties or failures in Afghanistan is being hidden from the public.

“What we are finding now is almost every indicia, metrics, however you want to phrase it, for success or failure is now classified or non-existent,” he said.

“The Afghan people obviously know which districts are controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban obviously know which districts they control. Our military knows it. Everybody in Afghanistan knows it,” he said. “The only people who don’t know what is going on are the people who are paying for all of this, and that’s the American taxpayer.” (VOA)